Should we believe in Carlos Beltran’s breakout May?

Is Beltran's hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Is Beltran’s hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

To say Carlos Beltran had a slow start to the season would be a massive understatement. There is no sugar-coating the fact that for the first month of 2015, Carlos Beltran looked every bit like a struggling 38-year-old veteran in decline. He was unable to catch up to fastballs, repeatedly chased breaking balls out of the zone and was essentially a near-automatic out almost every time he stepped to the plate.

His numbers in April were just plain ugly — 11-for-68 (.162), seven RBI, 21 strikeouts, five walks — which ranked him among the bottom-10 players in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. According to weighted runs created — a statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value — Beltran was 76 percent worse than the league average hitter, ranking 181st out of 186 qualifying players in the month.

He was a black hole in the Yankees lineup, and scouts around the league were calling for him to become a platoon/DH-type player, citing how slow and un-athletic he looked in the field and at the plate. Yet Joe Girardi kept running him out there nearly every day, insisting that he’d find his swing again.

Two weeks into the month of May, and it looks like Beltran may finally be breaking out of his slump. Sure, Girardi hinted that Beltran was better than his numbers showed in April because of his high “exit velocity” — but who could have predicted this outburst? Beltran already has more hits and RBIs this month than all of April and, after going homerless in his first 98 at-bats of the season, he hit two homers in a span of four at-bats on May 10 and 11.

What has been the key to Beltran’s breakthrough? His recent hot streak is obviously a very small sample of less than a dozen games, so we can’t suddenly say that Beltran is completely fixed and back to being the highly productive middle-of-the-order bat who excelled with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013. But are there signs that he’s turned the corner and on the verge of being at least a capable hitter in the Yankees lineup for the rest of the season?

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First, let’s take a glance at his traditional batting stats.

CARLOS BELTRAN THIS SEASON

Month PA AB H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April 74 68 11 0 7 5 21 0.162 0.216 0.265 0.481
May 43 41 13 2 8 2 4 0.317 0.349 0.561 0.910

Bravo! Everything is looking good here: he’s getting on base more, he’s hitting for power and he’s significantly cut his strikeout rate. Remember earlier when we said that Beltran in April was 76 percent worse than league average in terms of his overall offensive production … this month, he is 50 percent above league average in that same stat.

Beyond those basic numbers, Beltran also appears to have made fundamental changes to his plate approach. Although his walk rate remains below-average, he’s become more aggressive swinging at pitches within the strike zone (that’s good!), and is making more contact overall (90 percent in May vs. 81 percent in April). He has cut his swinging strike rate from 9.3 percent to 6.7 percent, and has whiffed on just one pitch in the strike zone in May:

image (4)

His monthly batted ball profile also makes you optimistic that Beltran has become a different – and better – hitter in May. Most significantly, he is hitting the ball harder and is really starting to show his pull-side power stroke at the plate.

Beltran has doubled his line drive rate over the last two months, while increasing his percentage of hard-hit balls from 23 percent in April to 35 percent in May. Last month, only one of every three balls he put into play were pulled; this month, 60 percent of his batted balls have been hit to his pull side.

Another encouraging sign is that Beltran’s bat speed appears to have returned — he has had little trouble handling above-average velocity fastballs in May. He was just 1-for-13 in at-bats ending in a pitch 93 mph or higher during the first month of the season; this month, he has six hits in 10 at-bats ending in 93-plus mph pitches. After whiffing or fouling off 39 percent of those 93-plus mph pitches in April, he’s chopped that rate to just 19 percent in May.

Here’s what the “May” Beltran can do to a 94 mph fastball in his hitting sweetspot:

ezgif.com-gif-maker (2)

If there is one concern about Beltran’s recent hot streak, it’s that the entire thing has come against right-handed pitchers. Literally. He is 0-for-9 against lefties in May and 13-for-32 (.406) against righties. That’s not a serious problem yet because he’s had so few plate appearances against them – but given the fact he was awful against southpaws in April (3-for-20), too, you’d like to see him get a few hits from the right side of the plate this month before declaring him completely back.

Despite the small sample of his empty at-bats against lefties this month, there is a lot to like about what Beltran is doing at the plate in May. The improvement in his peripheral batting stats – i.e. the decline in his strikeout and whiff rates – combined with a better approach at the plate and real increases in his ability to hit the ball with power, indicate that Beltran’s performance in May just might be sustainable for a few more months.

If Beltran can remain healthy the rest of the season, the Yankees may have added yet another dangerous bat to a lineup that already was among the best in the league, giving them even more firepower to remain atop the AL East and on track for a deep playoff run in October.

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The Carlos Beltran Dilemma

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following last night’s 1-for-4 against the Rays, Carlos Beltran is now hitting a weak .167/.227/.283 (34 wRC+) with a 30.3 K% in 66 plate appearances so far this season. He didn’t hit in Spring Training either (.225/.289/.275) and is now up to 111 total plate appearances since returning from offseason elbow surgery. Anecdotally, Beltran’s at-bats the last few days have looked worse than his at-bats at the start of the season a few weeks ago.

Beltran’s utter lack of production is a problem the Yankees can’t ignore and moving him down in the lineup only helps so much. Unlike Derek Jeter last season or Jorge Posada a few years ago, the Yankees have no real connection to Beltran. He’s not a legacy Yankee or anything like that. But he is signed through next season at $15M annually and that creates a major dilemma. This problem isn’t going to go away after the season.

An unproductive veteran outfielder is, unfortunately, nothing new for the Yankees. Last season Alfonso Soriano was a drain on the offense after being so excellent in the second half of the 2013 season. The year before that it was Vernon Wells, who turned back into the Angels version of Vernon Wells after a pretty awesome month of April. Soriano was cut loose in mid-July and Wells managed to last the entire season before being released in the offseason.

Wells was under contract for 2014 but the Yankees were only responsible for $2.4M of his $21M salary. The Angels were on the hook for the rest, and eating $2.4M is nothing. Soriano was still owed about $2.5M at the time of his release and again, that’s nothing to a team like New York. The Cubs were paying the bulk of his $18M salary last year. Those pills were relatively easy to swallow. On the other hand the Yankees owe Beltran $2.5M per month during the regular season this year and next.

The money leaves the Yankees in a very uncomfortable spot. They almost certainly will not release Beltran and I totally get it. I don’t think you’ll find an owner in baseball who is willing to eat that much money to make a player go away three weeks into year two of his three-year contract, especially when it’s a player a) with Beltran’s track record, and b) who maybe just needs more time to get right following offseason surgery. (The Josh Hamilton situation is a huuuge outlier.)

A trade seems impossible even if the Yankees are willing to a ton of money. (And I mean a ton of money.) Not only is Beltran not all that desirable to other teams as a fake right-fielder/DH who can’t hit, he also has a full no-trade clause and has expressed a very strong desire to wear pinstripes throughout his career. I doubt he would agree to waive his no-trade protection to go elsewhere. That’s his right. No one forced the Yankees to give Beltran the no-trade clause.

So, with a trade pretty much off the table, the Yankees are left with three realistic options. One, they could release Beltran, which seems unlikely for the reasons outlined above. Two, they could continue to play him lower in the lineup and hope he finds his groove as he gets further away from elbow surgery, even if he’s nothing more than a left-handed platoon partner for Chris Young. And three, the Yankees could bench Beltran and reduce his playing time to almost nothing.

What I think will happen is a combination of two and three — Beltran will continue play regularly but gradually start to see his playing time decrease if he shows no signs of turning things around. Joe Girardi has already reduced Beltran’s playing time — he’s started only six of the last ten games — but he could reduce it even more, especially with Young playing so well. Maybe Beltran will end up playing only two or three out of every ten games or something along those lines.

Benching Beltran only fixes part of the problem though. He’s still tying up a roster spot, and since he no longer offers defense or base-running at this point of his career, Beltran doesn’t bring anything to the table in a reduced role. All he has to offer is leadership, basically. That’s all. And Beltran is reportedly an excellent clubhouse guy, especially helping young Latin American players, so the leadership angle is not negligible. As a bench player he would have less on-field value than Garrett Jones, however.

“I think you don’t lose perspective that so many players — personally, I went through it and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was — there are months that are tough,” said the perpetually optimistic Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”

The Yankees have been able to rack up some wins despite Beltran’s lack of production early this year, so while he’s been a problem, it hasn’t derailed the team yet. This isn’t something the Yankees can brush under the rug though. Beltran is the weak link in a lineup with a few other black holes. The Yankees have little recourse aside from swallowing Beltran’s contract to cut him loose, and I just can’t see it happening anytime soon. The team as little choice but to hope Beltran starts hitting and soon.

Searching for signs of life from Carlos Beltran’s bat using MLBAM’s new exit velocity data

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

After sitting in favor of Chris Young last night, Carlos Beltran is hitting .171/.222/.268 (33 wRC+) in 45 plate appearances so far this season. He’s yet to hit a home run and in general his bat seems lifeless. Beltran turns 39 on Friday and he looks every bit the part of a washed up ex-slugger. We saw this firsthand with Alfonso Soriano last season — when it goes, it can go in a hurry. Soriano hit 34 homers in 2013 and was completely cooked in 2014.

Beltran started last season very well before the bone spur in his elbow became an issue, which ostensibly hurt his performance the last three or four months of the season. He had the elbow cleaned out in the offseason, rehabbed all winter and early in Spring Training, then got into Grapefruit League games in early March. Counting the spring, Carlos has now had 90 plate appearances since having his elbow fixed, and he’s looked good for basically none of them.

Joe Girardi finally bumped Beltran down in the lineup earlier this week — I’m pretty sure that had more to do with Alex Rodriguez‘s hot start than Beltran’s poor performance though — but that only helps so much. The Yankees need Beltran to hit. If he doesn’t hit, he’s completely useless, because he doesn’t play defense or run the bases like he once did. Because of his track record and the $30M or so the team owes him though the end of next season, expect Beltran to get a nice long leash to show he isn’t washed up.

“There’s nothing that I see that’s necessarily (wrong). Does his bat speed look different to me? No. Just he’s gotten off to a slow start and hopefully the consistent at-bats will get him going,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty last week when asked about Beltran’s early season slump. Hitting coach Jeff Pentland told George King that Beltran “is a little frustrated right now because I don’t think he is used to struggling,” and cautioned he doesn’t “want to overload him with mechanical things because sometimes you fool with the mind and it turns into something more serious.”

Last year, MLB Advanced Media tested a new tracked system in three ballparks (Citi Field, Miller Park, Target Field) that records every movement on the field. The ball, the defenders, you name it. It’s the backbone of StatCast. The system was installed in all 30 parks this season, and, for the very first time, we now have precise batted ball velocity and distance data at our fingertips. MLBAM makes the data available via Gameday and it can be parsed just like PitchFX. It’s a gold mine.

So, now that this data is available, let’s use it to see if Beltran is showing any signs of life with his bat in the very early going this season. It stands to reason that if Carlos is getting closer to snapping out of his early season slump — regardless of whether it is due to his age, his elbow, sample size, whatever — he would be hitting the ball harder in recent days. Right? You always hear announcers say a player is getting close to breaking out of a slump when he starts making loud outs.

It seems like we haven’t seen many loud outs from Beltran this year, but we don’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence anymore. We have MLBAM’s batted ball data now. Here is Beltran’s exit velocity through the first two and a half weeks of the new season (via Baseball Savant):

Carlos Beltran batted ball velocity

There is no upward trend (the trendline shows a very slight downward trend, in fact), so no, Beltran isn’t hitting the ball any harder now than he was the first few days of the season. His hardest hit ball this season left the bat at 103 mph, which he’s done twice. A-Rod has hit a ball 103+ mph six times, for comparison. Beltran’s average batted ball velocity of 87.9 mph ranks 91st out of the 159 batters with at least 20 at-bats this season.

That might not necessarily be bad! Guys like Kyle Seager (88.1 mph), Matt Kemp (87.8 mph), Pablo Sandoval (87.5 mph), and Jacoby Ellsbury (87.4 mph) are near Beltran on the batted ball velocity leaderboard and no one is calling them cooked. (At least not yet!) The league average exit velocity is approximately 88.2 mph, so these guys are right in that neighborhood. A couple of well-struck line drives tonight and tomorrow and they’ll be over the league average.

It’s important to remember this information is all new and we don’t know a whole lot about it yet. How long does it take to stabilize? Ten batted balls? Fifty? A thousand? What happens when the weather warms up? How volatile is it year to year? How well does it actually correlate to performance? These are all questions we can’t answer yet, so for now we can’t use this data to say anything definitive other than “Player X is hitting the ball this hard.”

Right now we’re all working on assumptions. Hitting the ball hard is better than not hitting the ball hard, that much is obvious, but do hitters actually hit the ball harder as they get closer to snapping out of a slump? It’s way too early to say with this data. It would have been encouraging to see Beltran is hitting the ball harder recently but I’m not sure it would have meant anything anyway. Beltran being below the league average — even slightly — is not surprising though. It confirms what our eyes have been telling us the first 14 games of 2015.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

The Summer of A-Rod: Looking At Upcoming Milestones [2015 Season Preview]

As Yankees fans, we’ve been fortunate to see a lot of historic moments over the years. Derek Jeter seemed to pass someone on some all-time list every other game last season. Mariano Rivera rewrote the record book for closers and others like Roger Clemens and Ichiro Suzuki had historic moments while passing through the Bronx.

The 2015 season is shaping up to be a good but not great milestone season for the Yankees. Some players will hit a few nice round numbers but we’re not going to see anything like we did with Jeter and Mariano the last few seasons. Well, that’s not true. The Yankees do have one all-time great close to reaching not one, but three historic milestones. The problem is everyone hates the guy.

As we get closer to wrapping up our season preview series, let’s look at some notable upcoming milestones. We’re only going to focus on the major, somewhat historical milestones though. No one really cares Andrew Miller is ten strikeouts away from 500 for his career, right? Right. Let’s get to it.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Summer of A-Rod

3,000th hit: 61 away
2,000th RBI: 31 away
660th home run: six away

Now that his suspension is over, Alex Rodriguez is able to continue his pursuit of some seriously historic milestones. With good health, he can become the 29th player in history with 3,000 hits and only the fourth ever with 2,000 RBI this season. He can also tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time homer list, triggering the first of his five $6M bonuses. Needless to say, the health part is far from guaranteed. Alex wasn’t particularly durable in the years immediately prior to the suspension, remember.

Here’s the coolest part: A-Rod could reach all three milestones on the same swing. It’s extremely unlikely to happen, but the math suggests it’s possible. One swing … bam. He gets his 3,000th hit, 2,000th RBI, and 660th homer all at once. It would be amazing. Jeter and Wade Boggs are the only players to go deep for their 3,000th hit, which is kinda funny since neither was a home run hitter, and it’s been almost a half-century since a player reached the 2,000th RBI plateau. Hank Aaron was the last to do it in 1972. (Babe Ruth and Cap Anson are the other members of the 2,000 RBI club.)

Should A-Rod reach the three milestones at some point this year, all on one swing or otherwise, I don’t think they’ll come with the usual celebration from fans and the Yankees. Announcers will mention it and writers will write about it, but I don’t think we’ll sit through some kind of massive chase like when Jeter was going after his 3,000th hit. That got non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage. That’s fine. Alex made his own bed and he has to sleep in it. I’m still rooting like hell for him though.

CC Sabathia

3,000th inning: 178.2 away
2,500th strikeout: 63 away

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, we would laugh at the idea of Sabathia throwing “only” 178.2 innings in a season. This is a guy who averaged 215 innings a year from 2001-11, which is bonkers. But, between last year’s knee surgery and his natural age-related decline, getting to 178.2 innings is hardly a guarantee for Sabathia. Should he get there, he’d be the 135th pitcher in history to reach 3,000 innings and only the 32nd lefty to do so.

Getting to 2,500 strikeouts is a much bigger deal, historically. Sixty-three more punch outs would move Sabathia into 31st place all-time and make him only the ninth lefty in history with 2,500 strikeouts. That’s not a “stop the game so his teammates can run on the field to congratulate him” type of milestone, but it’s still pretty cool. That kind of longevity and effectiveness is quite an accomplishment.

Carlos Beltran & Mark Teixeira

400th home run: Beltran is 27 away, Teixeira is 37 away

Both of these seem pretty unlikely, though I suppose they aren’t completely impossible. Four hundred dingers is a nice round number and one heck of an accomplishment, but remember, these two are switch-hitters. Only three switch-hitters in history have hit 400+ dingers: Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), and Chipper Jones (468). Beltran is fourth all-time in homers by a switch-hitter and Teixeira is sixth. (Lance Berkman is fifth with 366.) If they don’t get to 400 this year, hopefully both do it before their contracts expire following next season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi

1,272nd game managed with Yankees: 138 away
1,340th game managed overall: 44 away

When the Yankees play the Orioles at home on September 9th, Girardi will manage his 1,272nd game with the Yankees, jumping over Ralph Houk and into fifth place on the team’s all-time games managed list. Fifth place! It feels like Girardi was just hired yesterday, doesn’t it? My goodness. He has a long way to go before moving into fourth place — Miller Huggins managed 1,796 games in pinstripes — so after Girardi passes Houk, he’ll sit in fifth place for a few years.

If you’re wondering about wins, Girardi has managed 648 of those with the Yankees, the fifth most in franchise history. Huggins is fourth with 1,067 wins. So yeah, it’ll be a while before Girardi moves up a spot on that list. The Yankees have missed the postseason the last two years and could very well miss the playoffs again this year, though I don’t think Girardi is in danger of being fired. Hal Steinbrenner seems to like him very much and that’s the guy you want in your corner. Besides, I don’t see any reason why Girardi should be on the hot seat. If anything he’s helped prop the team up higher than their true talent level the last two years.

Anyway, Girardi will manage his 1,340th career game overall on May 24th, at home against the Rangers, which will move him into the top 100 on the all-time games managed list. Baseball-Reference says 686 men have managed at least one game in the show — I would have guessed more, though that doesn’t include bench coaches who took over in a particular game after the manager was ejected — and Girardi is close to joining the top 100 in games managed just a few months after his 50th birthday. That’s impressive. Joe’s still got a lot of managing left ahead of him.

The Hope for a Healthy and Productive Carlos Beltran [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One year into his three-year contract, the Carlos Beltran signing looks like the position player version of the Randy Johnson trade: the Yankees got the right player, just nine years too late. Beltran’s first season in pinstripes was a disappointment for several reasons, mostly because he didn’t hit (95 wRC+) and was banged up just about all season. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Beltran, who will turn 38 in April, had offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow after it hampered him from mid-May through the end of the season. He wanted to play through it and the Yankees were on board since the pain could be managed and the injury couldn’t get any worse, but in hindsight it was a mistake. Brian Cashman admitted as much after the season. Beltran should have just had surgery in May and been done with it.

Year two of Beltran’s contract offers the hope that, with the bone spur out of the picture, Beltran will get back to being productive and an asset in the middle of the order. After all, he hit .296/.339/.491 (131 wRC+) with 24 homers as recently as 2013. It’s not like you have to squint your eyes and look back five years for the last time he was an impact hitter. Beltran’s bat is a big factor for the 2015 Yankees.

Yankees Need: Damage Against Righties

Beltran is a switch-hitter and the vast majority of pitchers are right-handed — the batters faced split has sat around 75/25 in favor of righties the last few years — so the Yankee are going to count on him to do serious damage against them. I don’t just mean hold his own, I mean be a force. A middle of the order guy, a number three or four type hitter, hit for both average and power against northpaws. That kind of hitter. At this point of his career Beltran’s only redeeming quality is his bat. The Yankees need him to wreck righties.

Beltran Can: Still Produce Against Righties

Even while battling the elbow issue last year, Beltran still managed to hit .254/.331/.446 (118 wRC+) with 12 of his 15 home runs against righties. He also posted better than average strikeout (16.2%) and walk (9.5%) rates against righties, which is in line with his career numbers overall. Beltran didn’t put up 2013 numbers against righties (143 wRC+) but he was able to contribute from the left side of the plate even with the bone spur in his elbow.

The left side is Beltran’s more productive side and has been for years. (He’s a natural right-handed hitter, weirdly.) Last year he really seemed to struggle with inside pitches as a lefty batter and the data backs it up. Here are Beltran’s strike zone heat maps as a left-handed batter from 2012 through 2014 in terms of runs produced above average per 100 pitches (via FanGraphs):

Carlos Beltran Heat Maps-001The brighter the red, the more damage Beltran did against pitches in that particular location. The brighter the blue, the worse he did. Notice how the inner half of the plate (the right side of the heat maps) is nice and red in 2012 and 2013 before turning blue in 2014. He was five or six runs (per 100 pitches) above-average in certain inside spots in 2013 before dropping to two or three runs below-average in 2014. That’s a huge, huge swing from one year to the next.

Beltran’s bone spur was in his right elbow, his lead elbow as a left-handed hitter. That obviously could have played a major role in his sudden inability to hit inside pitches. Beltran simply might not have had the range of motion necessary — or at least have the necessary range of motion without discomfort — to hit those pitches. Or it could just be that he’s a soon-to-be 38-year-old player who is losing bat speed by the day and is no longer able to get around on inside pitches. We can’t rule that out either.

Now that the bone spur is out of his elbow, there’s at least some hope Beltran will better be able to handle inside pitches and thus improve his production against righties this coming season. He might not get back to where he was in 2013 or his overall 2011-13 level (139 wRC+), but something more than last year would be nice.

Yankees Need: Production Against Lefties

The Yankees are projected to have four right-handed hitters on the Opening Day roster: Alex Rodriguez, Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy, and Brendan Ryan. Only one of them figures to be in the regular starting lineup. That is not a lot of offensive firepower from that side of the plate, so the switch-hitters like Beltran (and Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley) are going to have to help pick up the slack. The AL East isn’t what it once was, the days of seeing David Price or Jon Lester every other weekend are over, but there still needs to be lineup balance and the ability to handle southpaws.

Beltran Can: Hopefully Halt The Decline Against Lefties

At this point Beltran is a switch-hitter in name only. The right side has been his weaker side of the plate for a few years running now and it’s only getting worse. Across the board his AVG, OBP, SLG, ISO, and wRC+ against lefties have been trending in the wrong direction since 2010. (His walk and strikeout rates have been all over the place.) Check it out:

AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+ K% BB%
2010 .292 .364 .646 .354 165 20.0% 9.1%
2011 .286 .338 .585 .299 153 17.5% 6.9%
2012 .276 .329 .538 .262 129 22.4% 7.5%
2013 .252 .281 .448 .196 100 15.2% 4.1%
2014 .196 .242 .322 .126 50 20.9% 5.9%

Yikes. Yes, the “bone spur in the elbow” caveat applies to last season, but leave 2014 out of it and that’s still a really scary trend. Even with a healthy elbow, why would I expect Beltran to be even an average hitter against left-handers this coming season? Hopefully he’ll rebound with a healthy elbow and top last year’s production, but I feel like it’ll take some BABIP luck to get back to a 100 wRC+ in 2015.

I doubt it’ll happen, but there’s an argument to made the Yankees are best off platooning Beltran with Young this summer. Or at the very least batting Beltran lower in the order against southpaws.

Yankees Need: “Just Don’t Mess Up Too Bad” Defense

In his prime, Beltran was an unreal center fielder with great range, tremendous reads, and a strong arm to back it all up. He wasn’t Andruw Jones but he was the next best thing. He was that good defensively. It’s been a very long time since Beltran was a plus defender though. You have to go back to his days with the Mets, basically. The Yankees are not unrealistic. They’ll again shade Jacoby Ellsbury towards right-center to help compensate for Beltran’s lack of range — having Brett Gardner in left allows that — and hope Beltran can simply make all the play he’s supposed to make. Right field in Yankee Stadium is relatively small. There’s not much ground to cover out there.

Beltran Can: Stand In Right Field For A Few Innings

Beltran has consistently rated as a below-average right fielder by the various defensive stats the last few years and that definitely matches up with the eye test. It’s not just a lack of range brought on by age and years of knee problems, there was was straight up laziness at times last year. I’m sure you remember Beltran getting caught standing around on this play last year:

The Yankees made a point of improving their defense this offseason and there’s no argument to be made that lifting Beltran for a defensive replacement (Young) in the late innings of a close game is not a smart move. Especially if the Yankees are leading. If they’re down a run and want to try to get Beltran an extra at-bat, fine. But if the lead is small and it’s the sixth or seventh inning, Beltran has no business playing the field. He’s that much of a liability. This is one aspect of his game that getting over the bone spur won’t improve. Immobility is immobility.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 11-14

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Every team seems to have one of them, but the Yankees have more than most. The aging, past-prime former star who is making still making star money. The Yankees have done a lot of high-end shopping over the years, paying big bucks across a lot of years to players who were, at one time, cornerstones of the roster.

That isn’t the case anymore. Nos. 11-14 in our 40-man roster rankings series includes four ex-stars on the downside of their careers, who the team is still counting on to some extent in 2015. All those big seven and eight (and ten!) year contracts have come to a head at the same time. To the next batch of players …

No. 14: Alex Rodriguez

2015 Role: DH, at least at first. Maybe even part-time DH. The Yankees have made it clear A-Rod will have to earn his playing time and show he is able to contribute if he wants a regular role. They’ve spent the winter adding backup plans at third base and at DH, so the team doesn’t expect a whole lot. The Yankees are stuck with Alex though, and since they’re paying him all that money, they’re going to see if he has anything left.

Long-Term Role: More of the same, unfortunately. Like it or not, Rodriguez is owed $64M these next three seasons — not to mention his five $6M home run bonuses, the first of which is only six dingers away — and the Yankees aren’t going to eat that money just to make him go away. Not as long as there’s a chance of recouping a big chunk of his salary via insurance (if he gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension.

So what’s the best case scenario here? I suppose it’s A-Rod hitting well enough — not like peak A-Rod, but maybe something like .270/.330/.420? — to deserve a regular lineup spot while showing enough mobility to play third base on occasion. That’s about it. The worst case scenario is that he’s cooked and not worth a roster spot, in which case the Yankees will probably stick him on the DL every time he feels the slightest twinge. What a mess.

No. 13: Carlos Beltran

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

2015 Role: Middle of the order bat, hopefully. The Yankees want Beltran to produce at the plate first and foremost. His defense in right is suspect at best and disastrous at worst, and I expect the team to mitigate the damage by using Chris Young in right field in the late innings of close games. Most importantly, they need Beltran to hit. For average, for power, the works.

Beltran had a bone spur removed from his elbow this offseason after playing through it for most of 2014. He absolutely mashed at the start of the year, but once the bone spur flared up, Beltran had no impact the plate. Hopefully having a healthy elbow means he will produce like he did before getting hurt going forward. That guy was really good.

Long-Term Role: Beltran is signed for another two seasons at $15M annually — unlike the other players in this post, the Yankees didn’t give him a 7+ year contract, just a three-year contract at age 36 — so he isn’t going anywhere. Joe Girardi is going to have to juggle DH at-bats between A-Rod and Beltran, which might not be all that difficult since both are known to visit the DL from time to time. Again, his role is middle of the order hitter. Both now and next year. If Beltran is unable to produce in that role, he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer to the Yankees.

No. 12: Mark Teixeira

2015 Role: Everyday first baseman and middle of the order power bat. Unlike Beltran, Teixeira is a two-way player who is still an asset in the field. In fact, he might be more valuable in the field than at the plate these days. Teixeira put up a .216/.313/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with 22 homers last season, though that was split into 17 homers and a 125 wRC+ in the first half and five homers with a 62 wRC+ in the second half. He fell off big time after the All-Star break.

Teixeira missed just about the entire 2013 season following wrist surgery and there’s at least some hope he’ll improve at the plate as he gets further away from the procedure. Wrist injuries are known to sap power for quite some team even after the player is cleared to play. Teixeira said he wasn’t strong enough last year, hence the second half fade, so he started his offseason workouts earlier this winter. That sounds nice but it may not mean anything at his age. His offense has been trending down for years, after all. We know Teixeira can still play a mean first base. But his offense is a major question.

Long-Term Role: More of the same. Teixeira is entering year seven of his eight-year contract and will continue to play first base and bat somewhere close to the middle of the order. Aside from Brian McCann, he is the team’s best power source, so at a minimum the Yankees would like to see some dingers out of Teixeira while they ride out the remainder of his contract. They acquired a nice backup plan in Garrett Jones — better than the “we’ll play anyone at first base” approach they had last year, anyway — and that was necessary given Teixeira’s continually mounting injury problems. He’s no longer an impact player, but the Yankees still need something out of him.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

No. 11: CC Sabathia

2015 Role: Innings eater, if the Yankees are lucky. Sabathia’s days as an ace are almost certainly over, and at this point it’s unclear if he can even be counted on to chew up innings. A degenerative knee condition limited him to only eight starts last season, and eventually Sabathia needed a clean-up procedure, which was a positive only because he didn’t need a much more serious microfracture surgery.

The thing is, even when he was healthy in 2013, Sabathia wasn’t any good, pitching to a 4.78 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 211 innings. The innings are nice, the Yankees want a lot of innings from their erstwhile ace this coming season, but not when he’s allowing runs at that rate. Best case scenario, Sabathia replaces the 2014 version of Hiroki Kuroda, pitching to a league average-ish ERA and taking the ball every fifth date. Anything more would be gravy.

Long-Term Role: There are two years plus a vesting option left on Sabathia’s contract, so he’ll potentially be around through 2017. (The vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, not his knee.) Three more years of the 2013-14 version of Sabathia would be very bad. The Yankees need him to salvage these next few years by at least staying healthy and eating innings every fifth day, even if he is nothing more than the de facto fifth starter.

If you want a reason why Sabathia might be effective this year, it’s that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates were all excellent before he went down with the knee injury last year. If he repeats those rates — they aren’t out of line with his 2011-13 performance — then he’ll have a better chance of keeping runs off the board. Sabathia is no longer an ace, but he is under contract for at least two more years, and the Yankees would like him to be a reliable part of their rotation during that time. Not want, really. Need.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 6-10. Five veteran players, including three position players expected to contribute both at the plate and in the field.