2016 Midseason Review: The Outfielders

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers and infielders. Now it’s time to cover the outfielders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have been making an effort to get younger over the last 20 months or so, but the one place they’ve been unable to do so is the outfield. They’re locked into three veterans making good to great money, and despite their efforts to move one of them over the winter, the Yankees didn’t get an offer they liked.

Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran returned as the starting outfield this season, and all three have been among the most productive players on the team. In fact, along with Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann, I’d said they were three of the Yankees’ five most productive players in the first half. Let’s review their seasons.

Carlos Beltran: Still Great After All These Years

Last April, Beltran looked done. Like done done. He was 38 and coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and he was caught so far between fastballs and offspeed stuff that it seemed like he was guessing at the plate. It was ugly. But, once the calendar flipped to May, Beltran raked the rest of the way, and it’s carried over into this season.

Beltran was, by no small margin, the team’s best hitter in the first half. He’s hitting .299/.338/.550 (132 wRC+) with 19 homers in 320 plate appearances, and he leads the Yankees in … drum roll, please … AVG, SLG, ISO, OPS, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+, doubles, homers, and RBI. Pretty much everything except OBP. (He’s fourth in OBP.) Carlos is 17th among the 167 qualified hitters in SLG and 21st in ISO, and he’s 19th among all players in homers. He hasn’t hit for this kind of power since he was in the prime of his career with the Mets.


Source: FanGraphsCarlos Beltran

The signs of aging are there. Beltran walks less (5.3%) and strikes out more (18.4%) than he did during his prime, and good fastballs have given him a hard time, but otherwise he’s still a very smart hitter with power who seems to have a knack for understanding how he’s being pitched. He’s even hitting lefties better than he has in years, putting up a 167 wRC+ against southpaws in 2016 after having a 75 wRC+ against them from 2014-15.

Beltran’s offense has been better than I think anyone could have reasonably expected. Even as good as he was from May through the end of the season last year, it wasn’t crazy to think the 39-year-old would slip some this year. That’s baseball. Instead, Beltran has been a monster at the dish and he has been since Opening Day, really. He hasn’t had any sort of extended slump this year. Most players will hit the skids for two or three weeks at some point. Not Carlos.

As you know, offense is pretty much the only Beltran provides these days. He doesn’t run well and he’s a terrible defender in right field. The Yankees have been able to give him more time at DH this year, first because Alex Rodriguez got hurt, and then because they’re flat out benching A-Rod. Beltran seems to be running better this year than the last two years, and call me a cynic, but I can’t help but that think that’s tied to his upcoming free agency. He’s playing for a contract and might be in a little better shape this year. Either well, Beltran has been the team MVP so far.

Second Half Outlook: One of three things will happen: One, the Yankees remain in the postseason hunt and they keep Beltran for a second half push. Two, the Yankees fall out of the race and trade Beltran to a contender at the deadline. Three, the Yankees don’t contend and don’t trade Beltran. Clearly, the third option would be the worst. I’d like to see the Yankees contend, but the team isn’t cooperating, which makes a trade the best outcome. Carlos definitely played his way into some nice trade value in the first half.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Separating The Player From The Contract

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

It’s impossible to look at Ellsbury and assess his play without thinking about his contract. He’s a good player making great player money, and so far this season Ellsbury has been exactly that: a good player. He owns a .279/.347/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with four homers and 16 steals, and he’s stayed mostly healthy too. That’s always a question, unfortunately.

Ellsbury actually started this season rather slowly, hitting .235/.278/.341 (62 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in eight attempts in April. He’s since hit .297/.373/.421 (115 wRC+) with three homers and eleven steals in 15 chances. Ellsbury has also walked (9.9%) nearly as often as he’s struck out (10.7%). We haven’t seen the disruptive baserunning this year, which could be a product of age — 32-year-olds usually don’t run much — or a minor hip injury he dealt with earlier this season.

Defensively, Ellsbury has settled in after a weirdly poor start to the season. His days as a Gold Glover are over and really, at some point during the life of his contract he’ll have to shift to left field. Not too many 33+ year olds are running around playing center at a high level these days. Ellsbury’s range is still good and his arm … well sometimes his throws reach the cutoff man on one hop. Let’s leave it at that.

Relative to his contract, Ellsbury is performing well-below expectations and he’s not likely to get better as he approaches his mid-30s. Relative to other center fielders, Ellsbury is a solid player who is worth a roster spot on a contending team. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can raise hell with his bat and his legs. He’s just not someone you want to pay $20M+ a year. What’s done is done though. Ellsbury has shaken off that slow start and is one of the more productive players on the team.

Second Half Outlook: Last season Ellsbury started well, then crashed horribly after returning from a knee injury. He’s healthy now and the outlook going forward is much more promising. Ellsbury is a good all-around player, and now that he’s hitting second rather than leading off, he figures to get some more opportunities to do damage with men on base. For the Yankees to have any chance at the postseason, Ellsbury is probably going to have to play at an All-Star level in the second half. He’s vital to their success.

Brett Gardner: Same Ol’ Brett, Just Without The Power

Brett Gardner is one boring baseball player. He’s hitting .257 with a .353 OBP this season. Last year he hit .256 with a .343 OBP. His career averages? A .263 AVG and a .346 OBP. Boring! Outliers are much more fun. Gardner is reliably productive each and every year even though a large segment of the fan base seems to think otherwise.

The difference between 2016 Gardner and pre-2016 Gardner is his power, which was never his calling card anyway, but still. Look:


Source: FanGraphsBrett Gardner

Gardner hit his power peak at ages 29-31 thanks in part to former hitting coach Kevin Long, who got him to be a little more aggressive and hunt fastballs early in the count. Gardner’s power peak was basically a league average ISO, but this year he’s well below that with a .098 ISO. He’s hit five homers this year, his fewest in the first half since 2011, when he hit four. (Not counting his injury shortened 2012 season.)

Gardner’s power outage is tied directly to his ground ball percentage. He’s put a career-high 55.2% of his batted balls on the ground this year, up from 45.3% last year and 41.7% the year before. Furthermore, when he pulls the ball, Gardner is putting it on the ground 69.9% of the time. Two years ago it was 49.7%. That’s no way for a left-handed hitter to take advantage of Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch.

Offensively, Gardner is doing just about everything he usually does except hit the ball out of the park. He’s hitting in the .255-.260 range, he’s drawing a ton of walks (11.6%), and he’s going to end up with 20+ steals again. The over-the-fence power isn’t there like it has been the last few years though. Don’t get me wrong, no one was expecting Gardner to swat 20+ dingers this year, but he might not even get to ten this season.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

On top of the offense is Gardner’s defense, which remains comfortably above-average and actually seems better this year than it was the last two years. Maybe it’s just me. The various stats like UZR and DRS agree, but eh. Let’s not rely on half-seasons of defensive stats. Between the solid defense and team-leading OBP, Gardner is once again one of the most productive players on the Yankees. His power has gone missing, and the Yankees have compensated by putting him in the leadoff spot, where the lack of pop is less of an issue.

Second Half Outlook: Gardner has a recent history of fading in the second half, but as long as he’s healthy, I expect him to be rock solid. I suppose the Yankees could look to trade him as part of a deadline sell-off, though they figure to push Beltran a little harder in trade talks given his status as an impending free agent. As with Ellsbury, the Yankees will need Gardner to produce at a high level to make a run at a postseason spot.

Yankeemetrics: Escape from The Jake [July 7-10]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Derek and Didi
Thursday’s game in Cleveland not only marked the Yankees’ final series before the All-Star break, but was also the start of a crucial, season-defining 14-game gauntlet against the AL’s cream of the crop: three first-place squads (Indians, Orioles, Rangers) and a wild-card team (Red Sox).

If their performance over the next few weeks is going to dictate whether they declare themselves as contenders or pretenders in this year’s playoff race, then at least the Yankees began this critical stretch with a bang.

Despite this matchup looking like a complete mismatch on paper — the AL’s best pitching staff (3.61 ERA entering Thursday) versus the AL’s second-least productive offense (.707 OPS entering Thursday) — the Yankees somehow rallied from an early deficit and held off a late comeback bid by the Indians to escape with a 5-4 win.

Didi Gregorius sparked the rally in the fifth inning with his 10th homer of the season, setting a new career-high and further cementing himself potentially as the team’s next superstar infielder. The list of Yankee shortstops (guys who played at least 75 percent of games at the position) to hit double-digit homers before the All-Star break is a short one: Derek Jeter (six times), Roy Smalley (1983), Frankie Crosetti (1936) … and now Sir Didi.

Hanging Chad
In a season filled with inconsistency, it was only fitting that the Yankees failed to build any momentum following their exciting win on Thursday and were clobbered by the Indians the next night, 10-2.

The game was essentially over after the first inning as Cleveland battered Chad Green for three homers and four runs before he could even get three outs. Carlos Santana led off the game with a homer to right field, and then three pitches later Jason Kipnis took Green deep to put the Yankees in an early 2-0 hole.

(AP)
(AP)

Green became just the fourth Yankee pitcher in the last 75 years to give up back-to-back homers to start a game. The last guy to do it was Hiroki Kuroda on Sept. 25, 2014 vs. the Orioles, and the others were Ted Lilly (June 6, 2001 vs. Orioles) and Catfish Hunter (June 17, 1977 vs. Red Sox).

The Indians weren’t done crushing Green’s batting practice fastballs, though. Lonnie Chisenhall went yard later in the first inning, giving Green the honor of being the sixth Yankee since 1930 to allow three homers in the first inning of a game. The rest of this illustrious list: A.J. Burnett (2010), Ron Guidry (1987), Catfish Hunter (same as above), Wade Blasingame (1972) and Hank Johnson (1932).

And Mike Napoli put an exclamation point on Green’s miserable night when he smoked a 3-2 pitch to deep left center field that nearly hit the scoreboard. It traveled 459.6 feet per Statcast, the second-longest home run allowed by a Yankee pitcher since 2008 (when Statcast began measuring batted ball distance).

Green’s final line was seven runs, five hits and four homers allowed in 4 1/3 innings. The last Yankee to surrender at least four homers against the Indians was Scott Sanderson on April 17, 1992, and the last guy to do that in Cleveland was Dennis Rasmussen in 1987.

(AP)
(AP)

Extra, extra
For the second time in three games the Yankees rallied to beat the Indians, 7-6 in 11 innings, stealing another thrilling victory on Saturday afternoon against the AL’s second-best team.

It was the Yankees’ first extra-inning win of the season, making this the latest into the season by date that the Yankees recorded their first win in extras since 1940, when they didn’t get one until July 17 … also against the Indians.

Brian McCann ripped the game-winning hit in the decisive frame with a booming RBI double off the wall in right field to break a 6-6 tie. He earned our ridiculous #Funfact Yankeemetric of the series: The last Yankee catcher with a extra-inning, go-ahead hit in Cleveland was Elston Howard, who belted a tie-breaking solo homer in the 11th inning off Luis Tiant on Sept. 23, 1964 in a 4-3 Yankees win.

Brett Gardner capped off the Yankees second rally of the game with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning to stake the Yankees to a brief 6-5 lead. Gardner entered the game with just 10 RBI in 60 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season; his rate of one RBI every six at-bats with RISP was the worst among the 199 players that had at least 50 at-bats with a man on second and/or third heading into the weekend.

Hey there, .500
The Yankees will head into the All-Star break on a winning note, riding the momentum of an impressive — and improbable — series win over the AL Central-leading Indians. By taking of three of four against one of the best teams in the league, the Yankees improved to 44-44, a fitting mark at the mid-point given that they’ve danced around the .500 mark for much of the season.

(AP)
(AP)

This is the 24th straight year the Yankees will enter the second half of the season with a .500 or better record, dating back to 1993. In that span no other team has even posted 20 non-losing first-half seasons, with the Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox each at 19.

Carlos Beltran was undoubtedly the Yankees’ first-half MVP, thanks to his tremendous power and consistency at the plate, leading the team in homers, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. He is just the second Yankee in his age-39 season or older to finish the first half with a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The other was Babe Ruth, who slugged .562 before the break in 1934.

Andrew Miller has been arguably the most valuable pitcher on the Yankees staff thus far, featuring video game-like stats that haven’t been duplicated by anybody before this year. He is the only player in major-league history to pitch at least 35 innings in the first half and post an ERA below 1.50, a strikeout rate of at least 15.0 per nine innings and a WHIP below 1.00.

Olney: Yankees fielding offers for Miller, Chapman, others

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), the Yankees are currently fielding offers for Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and other players. Executives with other clubs tell Olney the Yanks are prepared to discuss Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Nathan Eovaldi as well. I’m sure they’re willing to talk about others too.

“The clock is ticking,” said Brian Cashman on Olney’s podcast (transcription via MLBTR), “and the more that we stay in this mode that we’re currently in, I think it’s going to force us into some tough decisions that we didn’t want to be in. There’s some time on the clock, but it’s getting late, as people would say.”

One rival executive told Olney his team made an “aggressive” offer for one of New York’s end-game relievers and that the Yankees are seriously considering it. Who is that team and what is their offer? Good luck getting that information. My guess is the Yankees have received a ton of offers for their bullpen arms — and other players too — some more serious than others.

The good news for the Yankees is a number of contending clubs are dealing with major bullpen issues right now. We saw what the Rangers are working with last week. The Giants bullpen blew another lead last night, and the Marlins blew a 6-0 lead Monday even with Fernando Rodney in tow. The Nationals and Dodgers could use relief help. So could the Red Sox, but I can’t see a trade happening there.

Either way, the Yankees should be in sell mode and it would be wise to make everyone available, not just the impending free agents. I’m glad they’re listening on guys like McCann and Eovaldi, not that I expect them to actually be moved. There’s no point in halfway rebuilding. The Yankees have been toeing the line between rebuilding and contending too long. Either go all-in and sell or don’t bother, you know?

The Yankees won last night — it was one of their best all-around performances of the season, in fact — but are still only 41-42 with a -27 run differential on the season. They’re seven games back in the AL East and four games back of the second wildcard spot with six teams ahead of them. The Yankees have literally the worst record among AL playoff hopefuls. They’re four games back of a wildcard spot, then next up is the A’s at 9.5 games back.

Beltran, Betances, Miller selected to 2016 All-Star Game

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

For the second straight season, the Yankees will have three All-Star representatives. Carlos Beltran, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller were all selected for the 2016 All-Star Game, it was announced Tuesday night. Last year Betances, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner represented the Yankees. Here are the full 2016 All-Star rosters.

Beltran has been far and away the Yankees’ best hitter this season. He owns a .296/.337/.567 (136 wRC+) batting line with 19 homers, seventh most in the AL. Only Mike Trout (169 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (141 wRC+), Jackie Bradley Jr. (141 wRC+), and Michael Saunders (140 wRC+) have been better among AL outfielders. This is Beltran’s ninth All-Star Game and, believe it or not, his first as an AL player. Who knew?

Betances is heading to his third straight All-Star Game even though this feels like the worst of his three full seasons in the big leagues. He’s set the bar rather high. Dellin has a 2.63 ERA (1.17 FIP) with 74 strikeouts in 41 innings. He leads all relievers in strikeouts and fWAR (+2.1), and he’s second in strikeout rate (46.3%). Betances has been insanely good this season. Again.

As for Miller, he is going to his first All-Star Game. He has a 1.47 ERA (1.91 FIP) with 66 strikeouts in only 36.2 innings. Miller leads all relievers in strikeout rate (48.2%), is second to Betances in strikeouts, and is fourth in fWAR (+1.4). He’s behind Betances, Kenley Jansen (+1.9), and Will Harris (+1.5). Needless to say, Miller is very deserving. I thought he was the only All-Star Game lock among Yankees players.

The Yankees don’t really have a snub for the All-Star Game. Masahiro Tanaka has a case for a spot, but he’s going to start this Sunday, which means he’s ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game anyway. Brian McCann could have made it given the generally awful crop of AL catchers, but alas. Didi Gregorius has been awesome, though there are too many good shortstops in the AL. Congrats to Beltran, Betances, and Miller. They were all very deserving.

Game 82: The Start of the Second Half

Bat flips for America. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Bat flips for America. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

The first half of the 2016 season is in the books, and it did not go well for the Yankees. They’re 40-41 on the season, which means they have to go 47-34 the rest of the way to match last year’s record. That’s a 94-win pace for half a season. Are these Yankees capable of that? Never say never, but I find it tough to believe. Hopefully the second half brings a little a lot more success. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 1B Rob Refsnyder
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s cool and cloudy in Chicago this afternoon, and there is some rain in the forecast, though it looks like it’ll hold off until later tonight. It shouldn’t be a problem for the game. This afternoon’s series opener will begin at 2:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Carlos Beltran (hamstring) is not yet return to return to the outfield. Joe Girardi said there’s a chance he won’t play the field at all this series … Mark Teixeira had the day off because the Yankees are trying to manage his knee. He’s not hurt, it’s just part of their plan to get him off his feet a little more often.

Bullpen Update: Nathan Eovaldi is available in relief and will be the seventh and eighth inning guy today, Girardi said. It’s his throw day and the bullpen is worn out. Chad Green is going to start in Eovaldi’s place Friday and they’ll determine when Eovaldi will make his next start based on his usage this afternoon. Girardi said the move to the bullpen is only temporary.

Game 79: A Late Night on the West Coast

(Presswire)
Tony Gwynn hit .338. For his entire career. (Presswire)

I have to say, if you’re staying up for tonight’s series opener against the Padres, you are one dedicated fan. A night game on the West Coast on a Friday night? Geez. Not only that, but it’s a holiday weekend, and it’s a 10:40pm ET start too. Why is the game starting a half-hour later than usual? I have no idea. That’s such a Padres thing to do. Anyway, here is the Padres’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

The weather in San Diego tonight is perfect. I’m not even going to both to look it up. It’s safe to assume the weather is perfect. Like I said, tonight’s game will begin at 10:40pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy, if you’re still awake.

Injury Update: Carlos Beltran (hamstring) hit again and continues to make progress. Joe Girardi did say it’s possible Beltran will not play at all this weekend, however.

Trade & Free Agent Notes: Cubs, Beltran, Red Sox, Gurriel

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

It has been three days since Yankees president Randy Levine told reporters any talk about selling was “nonsense,” and boy, it would be much easier to make a snarky comment right now had the Yankees not come back to win that game last night. Still, their postseason odds are 9.0% per FanGraphs, and that’s not good. Regardless of what Levine says, the Yankees have to seriously consider shifting focus from this season to the future before the trade deadline. Here are some miscellaneous trade notes, with one free agent note thrown in for good measure.

Cubs continue to scout Yankees’ bullpen

The Cubs had multiple scouts at Yankee Stadium over the weekend to see the Yankees’ big three relievers, reports George King. Chicago had scouts on hand to see those guys earlier this month too. While I’m sure the Cubbies would love to get their hands on Dellin Betances, my guess is they’re focusing on Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman given their need for a late-inning southpaw.

For what it’s worth, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) hears the Yankees will tell the Cubs they have to part with Kyle Schwarber to get Miller. Chicago doesn’t want to do that, but they have plenty of other prospects and young big leaguers though, so when the time comes to field serious offers, Chicago can make a very competitive bid. Other contenders like the Nationals, Rangers, and Giants figure to be involved too, which is good news for the Yankees. Hooray bidding wars!

Beltran willing to waive no-trade clause

Carlos Beltran is one of the few big name Yankees without full no-trade protection — he can block deals to 14 teams — and he told Brendan Kuty that if the team comes to him to ask for approval for a trade, he’d be willing to okay the deal. “If they came to me about it, we would have a conversation,” he said. “When the team is looking to trade you, there’s no other decision to make other than go.”

The Yankees received a bit of a scare earlier this week when Beltran left a game with hamstring injury — that’s after receiving a scare when he needed his knee drained a few weeks ago — but thankfully he is only day-to-day. There don’t figure to be many impact bats available at the deadline, so even with Beltran’s defensive limitations, I imagine he’ll generate a ton of interest. The Indians and Royals are two obvious fits. The Giants and Nationals could have interest too. Hunter Pence is out long-term with a torn hamstring, so right field is open in San Francisco. Ben Revere hasn’t hit all year, so the Nats could put Beltran in right and slide Bryce Harper to center.

Dombrowski willing to trade with Yankees

Dombrowski. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Dombrowski. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

I wouldn’t count on this actually happening, but Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told Brian MacPherson he is open to making a trade with the Yankees this summer. “I have made trades within our own division,” said the longtime exec, “… and the only time I’ve generally done that is when one club is in it and the other club is not. In that way, if they get the best return on their value, they don’t really care. If they’re in it and we’re in it, probably the odds are longer.”

I definitely understand why teams shy away from intradivision trades, but when you take the plunge and decide to sell, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t consider all offers. I mean, teams don’t make trades unless they believe they’re coming out ahead, so theoretically an intradivision trade would make your roster stronger and a rival’s weaker. A Yankees-Red Sox trade — a big trade, I mean, not something like Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew — might get squashed at the ownership level. The prospect of losing a trade to your biggest rival is enough to make folks squeamish.

Yankees not believed to have much interest in Gurriel

Let’s end with a note about a free agent, not a trade. At some point soon the Yankees will hold a private workout for Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel at their Tampa complex, assuming it hasn’t happened already. Despite that, George King says the team’s interest level is “not believed to be high.” I would expect nothing less. Even if the Yankees have interest, they’re not going to say so publicly. There’s nothing to be gained by doing so.

Most see Gurriel as an impact middle of the order hitter, something the Yankees really lack. That said, he is already 32 years old, so he’s at the age where you’d expect his game to start to slip. You’re buying mostly decline years. Gurriel is a player you add if you’re a contender right now and are looking for someone to put you over the top. He doesn’t make sense for a rebuilding team that is years away from contention. The Yankees have the resources to avoid a long rebuild and the plan for the offense going forward can’t simply be “hope the prospects work out.” I get why teams would shy away from a 32-year-old with no MLB track record even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.