Joe Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference: Ellsbury, Gardner, Rotation, Refsnyder, More

Earlier this morning at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season State of the Yankees press conference. There was no major news announced — no coaches were fired, no players are having offseason surgery, nothing like that — which is a good thing, I suppose. Girardi instead reflected back on this season and looked ahead to next season.

The press conference was shown live on YES and you can watch the entire thing in the two videos above. Here are the highlights with some of my thoughts as well.

The Second Half Slump

  • On players getting worn down this year: “When I look at our club, we struggled down the stretch, to me more offensively than anything that we did. You can look at things a couple different ways. You could say ‘were they tired?’ I don’t know. Everyone during the season is going to get physically worn down … We do have a lot of players that are considered to be the prime age, we have some older players in Alex and Carlos.”
  • On possibly playing the veterans too much: “With the info in front of me and being prepared and having discussions with my coaches, we’re not so sure that it would have worked any better (had we done it differently). I did the best I could, is the bottom line.”
  • On having a different plan next year: “You always try to put a reason on certain things. Try to understand it, how you can learn from that, do you try to do something different next year? In these situations, it’s something I’ll think long and hard about this winter … For whatever reason some guys struggled in the second half, the last month, whatever it is.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s second half slump: “I’ll evaluate what I did with Brian McCann this year and see could you do it a little different next year to keep him physically strong.”

More than anything, Girardi seemed to indicate he believes his plan to rest players this season was correct given the information, but it didn’t work as hoped. He really seemed to emphasize reviewing what happened this year and coming up with a way to avoid the second half slump again, either through more rest or something else.

Girardi didn’t simply brush off the second half offensive slump as just “one of those things.” He acknowledged it as a real problem and made it clear he believes it can be corrected. He also said he needs to make sure the players buy into whatever plan they come up with going forward. How do they fix it next year? I have no idea. I came away with the impression that Girardi and Yankees will spent a lot of time this winter trying to come up with a way to keep their veterans productive all season in 2016.

Bullpen Struggles

  • On Dellin Betances in September: “I think he became a little human, that’s all. It’s not like he had a 4.00 ERA in those months. He still pitched pretty well … He had a human month. We’ve seen other great relievers have a human month.”
  • On overworking his key relievers: “As far as using them more than I would have liked, no. I paid attention to Dellin’s (workload) numbers in Triple-A, last year, and this year … Miller had a couple weeks off during the season. Wilson’s workload was not as much as Dellin’s.”
  • On Chasen Shreve‘s rough finish: “I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself. For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”
  • On Adam Warren‘s value: “When Adam went back into our rotation it changed our bullpen dramatically. He made our bullpen deeper … He was as valuable as any pitcher we have because of the opportunities he gave us to win games.”
  • On the young relievers: “I think there’s a number of relievers who came up and got good experience … When you move (Warren) into the rotation, now you’re asking kids to do that. At times we were asking a lot of them. I think the experience they got was extremely valuable. It will help them in the future and give us more options. Did they struggle? Yes they did.”

I thought Betances in particular had a really heavy workload between the sheer volume of innings (84, most among all relievers) and high-leverage work (1.64 Leverage Index when entering games, tenth highest among relievers). He has a long history of struggling to throw strikes, and his late season control issues could easily have been him fighting his mechanics, but I can’t imagine the workload helped. Dellin is crazy valuable and it’s tempting to use him four or five outs at a time, but boy, relievers just don’t work like that anymore.

As for the rest of the bullpen, yes, figuring out what the hell happened with Shreve will be a major item this winter. Shreve was awesome for much of the season, he really stepped up when Andrew Miller got hurt, but his finish was abysmal. They need to get first half Shreve back. I also agree that the young relievers got good experience this season, but I don’t think they can continue shuttling them back and forth again next year. It’s time to give one or two an extended opportunity. You’re not going to learn anything about them when they’re throwing two or three innings between being called up and sent back down every other week.

Ellsbury & Gardner

  • On Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury: “Ellsbury felt good. He physically felt pretty good the second half. He did run into the wall (during the final homestand) and I think it affected his shoulder a bit … Speed guys are going to get beat up as much as anyone.”
  • On Brett Gardner being banged up and slumping in the second half: “I’ll look at how I used him. Some of the months he was so good it was unbelievable (and it was hard to take him out of the lineup) … We tried to get him rest. We try to give these guys rest.”
  • On Gardner’s lack of stolen bases after the first few weeks: “Part of it is he wasn’t on nearly as much, and teams pay attention to him obviously a lot. That’s probably something that needs to be addressed because we need that out of him … He never complained about his legs, but when a guy doesn’t steal as much, maybe he doesn’t feel physically 100%.”
  • On sitting Ellsbury in the wildcard game: “You know what, there’s a lot of hard decisions I have to make during the course of the season. At times I sat Gardner for Chris Young and at times I sat Ellsbury …  I went all through kind of scenarios … It came down to a body of work over the season against left-handers. I did what I thought was the best at the time. Did it work out? No.”
  • On having to possibly mend the fence with Ellsbury: “As far as fence mending, I guess that’s to be determined … Only time will tell. I thought we had a great conversation that day. I thought he had a great attitude that day.”

I was actually kinda surprised Girardi acknowledged Gardner’s lack of stolen bases — he did go 20-for-25 in steal attempts this year, for what it’s worth — as a problem. I figured he’d just brush it off. I’m not a huge stolen base guy, especially early in the game (I’d rather not risk losing the base-runner with the middle of the order due up), but if they can Gardner to be more aggressive next year, great!

The “mending the fence” question with Ellsbury was interesting. That’s an Ellsbury problem as far as I’m concerned, not a Girardi problem. Sitting Ellsbury was the right move in my opinion. Is he really going to hold a grudge after the season he had? If Ellsbury is upset with anyone, he should be upset with himself for putting Girardi in a position where he had to pick between him and Gardner in a winner-take-all game.


  • On CC Sabathia‘s rotation status: “I thought when you look at his last seven or eight starts, once you look at his starts with his knee brace, things got better. He pitched much better. I think right now, you view him as a starter, you see how he physically bounces back again.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and giving him extra rest between starts: “I think that’s another discussion we have to have. We had some physical concerns going into the season and I think we were trying to be proactive in that situation, but I think he answered the bell pretty well … I think he answered (questions about his elbow). I think he showed that was not an issue during the course of the season.”
  • On any offseason surgeries: “As of right now, I don’t think so … As we look at guys, Jake’s knee healed up fine, we didn’t have any issues … there’s nothing scheduled right now.”

Girardi did not address Sabathia’s stint in rehab at all. The answer about whether he is considered part of the rotation next year was purely performance and health (knee) based, and he gave the answer I expected. There’s no reason to think they’ll remove Sabathia from the rotation at this point as long as he’s physically able to take the mound.

The Young Players

  • On who we could see next year: “We feel Aaron Judge is going to make a big impact. We feel Gary Sanchez is going to make a big impact. We feel good about the improvements he made (in 2015) … You’ve got a Brady Lail … To me, when there’s talent, there’s an opportunity they’re going to have an impact for you. When you have players who are extremely talented, they get there before you anticipate, and that’s what happened this year.”
  • On Rob Refsnyder not getting a bigger opportunity: “The one thing as a club you always want to have is depth … If we would have kept Refsnyder — there were still some question marks that had to be answered about him, about playing the position, there were shifts taking place, we wanted to make sure (he was) complete aware of — we probably would have had to release someone and we weren’t ready to do that.”
  • On giving young kids playing time: “You don’t want a young player playing once or twice a week when there’s still development that has to happen. You don’t want to slow that down … John Ryan Murphy did very well. I thought he thrived in that situation.”
  • On trying Refsnyder and Murphy at other positions: “I don’t really see a Refsnyder going back to the outfield. I think we will continue to try to develop him as a second baseman. We believe his bat is going to play … Could you toy around with a Murphy playing a different position? I think you could. I think he’s athletic enough. I’m not opposed to that. I’m not opposed to doing anything if it has value and I think it’ll help us.”

The Yankees had Murphy work out at first base late in the season and he takes ground balls at third base regularly before games — he also played a little bit of third in the minors — and that might be worth exploring in the future. I like (love!) him behind the plate, but a little versatility wouldn’t hurt.

As for Refsnyder, one thing is becoming clear: the Yankees weren’t happy with his defense when he was called up in July, but they felt he improved after going to Triple-A and was more ready in late-September. The outfield is a waste of time to me. Put Refsnyder in the outfield and he’s just another guy. He has to remain at second to have the most value. Do the Yankees feel Refsnyder’s defense is ready for full-time play? That remains to be seen.

Also, it was interesting Girardi mentioned Lail by name. Lail, Judge, and Sanchez were the only prospects to get mentioned by name. Lail had some success in Triple-A this year and figures to be a call-up option next season. That Girardi is mentioning him by name — he mentioned Refsnyder and Severino by name at last year’s end-of-season press conference, for what it’s worth — indicated Lail is in the plans next year.

Improving Next Year

  • On the rotation: “I think you’re going to see improvement from our starting pitchers. Michael Pineda is not a rookie but it’s almost like he had to start over in a sense because this was the first time in a long time he was expected to take the ball every fifth day. Ivan Nova was coming off a major surgery where command was the last thing to come back … From a health standpoint, I feel a lot better about them.”
  • On the Yankees needing an ace: “Looking at Tanaka, I think he’s a top of line rotation pitcher. Is he a one or a two, I don’t know. I think Sevy has a chance to be a top of the rotation guy … We have five starters that give you a chance to win. That’s the most important thing.”
  • On young players taking a step forward: “I think a lot of those questions we had going into Spring Training have been answered. I think we saw improvement out of players over the course of the season, (like) Didi … We’ll have Severino for a full year, Michael has proved he can stay healthy … We have more pitchers we expect back and no more questions … I think there’s more depth in the organization.”
  • On Refsnyder at second base: “He played well. It’s a small sample. I thought he improved during Triple-A during the course of the season. You at him, you look at what’s available (at second base) and you make a decision … That’s something that will have to address this spring.”
  • On possible trades: “I think anything’s always possible. I do. But I’ve always said about trades, trades only work if both teams can agree. I’m sure that will be looked at.”

Not surprisingly, Girardi mostly deferred questions about offseason moves to the front office. That’s not really his place, though after eight years as manager, I assume he has input. It does seem like the Yankees will bank on their young players taking a step forward next year — not just their young players, but others like Nova bouncing back as he gets further away from surgery — and that’s not surprising. The Yankees stuck with their young players this year and it worked, for the most part. Why would they change it up?


  • On standing pat at the trade deadline: “I think when you look at the contributions (the kids) made, I think we made the right move. I know a David Price did extremely well in his 10-12 starts over there … But when I look at Severino’s body of work, I think we’re all pretty pleased. When I look at Bird’s body of work, I think we’re pretty pleased and glad we kept him.”
  • On A-Rod returning to the infield: “I imagine that he’s probably mostly going to be a DH going forward. That’s something that we’ll probably address over the winter … It’s probable he’s mostly a DH.”
  • On continuing to use a sixth starter next year: “Inserting a sixth starter every once in a while is not a bad, but it becomes something of an up and down shuttle … I think that’s something we really have to address too.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We haven’t even talked about that yet. I haven’t even been in the office until today … I haven’t even thought about that.
  • On his wish list for 2016: “It’s pretty plain and simple: win the World Series. Whatever it takes, that’s what my wish list is.”

Between his comments about Tanaka earlier and saying the spot sixth starter is “something we really have to address,” it seems like Girardi wants to get away from being so protective of the starters and turn them loose, at least more than they did this year. If nothing else, they definitely need more innings from the rotation next year. They can’t go through another season asking the bullpen for 10-12 outs a night.

CC Sabathia checks into alcohol rehab center, will not be available for postseason

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

Monday afternoon the Yankees announced CC Sabathia has checked himself into an alcohol rehab center and will not be available this postseason. Here’s the statement Sabathia released:

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide.  But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

It takes an awful lot of courage for Sabathia to come out and admit this publicly. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sabathia could have easily taken an unspecified leave of absence but he admitted his problem. Good for him and his family. There is no wrong time to get help. You know that if someone you love has ever battled addiction.

“It wasn’t a phone call I was expecting,” said Brian Cashman at a press conference this afternoon. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this … What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

What does this mean for the postseason? I’m not sure. It’s uncomfortable to think about that right now. Sabathia’s problem is much bigger than baseball and I’m glad he’s getting the help he needs.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff


At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).


The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.


That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)


That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.

Sabathia is the right man at the right time for the Yankees


There were times earlier this season when you couldn’t help but wonder how CC Sabathia would ever get another out. He struggled not only in the first half of this season, but dating back to the start of the 2013 season. All those innings and an arthritic landing knee were starting to catch up to Sabathia in his mid-30s. Father Time, as they say, is undefeated.

Sabathia’s knee gave out last month, and you knew it was bad when he removed himself from the game without even lobbying to stay in or attempting a test pitch. This is a guy who pitched the Yankees to a division title with a bone spur in his elbow in 2012. He suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in September 2013 and finished the start. I can’t imagine how much knee pain he’s dealt with over the years. Sabathia’s performance has declined. His toughness? Never. He’s a warrior.

The knee injury was potentially season-ending — both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman admitted as much after the big lefty went for tests — but Sabathia never though about it that way. “No matter what, I was coming back. For sure,” he said to reporters following Sunday’s win over the Mets. As poorly as he’d pitched earlier this season, the Yankees needed Sabathia back too. Nathan Eovaldi landed on the DL and Ivan Nova pitched his way out of the rotation. They needed someone to help. Anyone.

That someone, as it turns out, is Sabathia. Since returning from the DL, Sabathia has allowed two earned runs in 17.1 innings across three starts, holding opponents to a .190/.292/.254 batting line. Three starts is three starts, we know better than to make too much out of that, but those three starts count. They’re in the bank. They helped the Yankees win games and improve their spot in the standings. Those three starts have had a real, tangible benefit.

The arthritic knee is severe enough that Sabathia admitted he will one day need knee replacement surgery — “Eventually, but that’s the price you pay,” he said to Barry Bloom — and right now he’s managing the condition with a new, clunkier knee brace. Before he was wearing more of a sleeve during his starts. Now it’s an actual brace that prevents (or limits, at least) bone-on-bone contact each time he throws a pitch.

“I think I needed the rest,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked about the knee injury and the new brace. “Obviously the brace has been helping. Just a few adjustments we made in the rehab, and I’ve been feeling pretty good, so hopefully I can keep that up … I don’t have to worry about every pitch. Or this pitch, if I’m trying to go in, if that’s going to hurt. I can just go out and throw my game and not have to worry about it.”

Sabathia pitched well in the handful of starts prior to his knee injury — he actually has a 2.56 ERA (3.69 FIP) in his last seven starts and 38.2 innings — though he admitted he stopped trying to protect the knee and decided to air it out before getting hurt. It worked for a while, his fastball velocity jumped a tick …

CC Sabathia velocity

… but eventually the knee acted up. I don’t know if Sabathia is airing it out with the new knee brace now — if he is, it isn’t showing up in his velocity, just look at the graph — but I’ve always felt location was his biggest issue the last few years, not raw velocity. Oh sure, there’s a big difference between 93-95 and 88-91, but whenever Sabathia got burned, it was because he missed his spot and left a pitch out over the plate.

With a 93-95 mph fastball, you can get away with some of those mistakes over the plate. That’s the advantage of velocity. More margin for error. That isn’t the case with 88-91 mph though, and Sabathia was paying for it dearly whenever he made a mistake. Since coming off the DL, those mistakes have been more infrequent. Here are Sabathia’s pitch locations in his last three starts (via Baseball Savant):

CC Sabathia pitch locations

The fastballs are bunched on the edges of the strike zone with much fewer in the middle of the zone. (Interestingly, it appears Sabathia uses his four-seamer to the gloveside and sinker to the armside.) At this stage of his career, that’s where Sabathia needs to live. On the edges of the zone. New knee brace or not, he really doesn’t have the raw velocity to pitch over the plate anymore.

If the new knee brace is allowing Sabathia to pitch pain-free (or even with reduced pain) and better maintain his mechanics, his recent performance might actually be sustainable and not a blip. (Alec Dopp wrote more about this yesterday.) He’s probably not a true talent sub-3.00 ERA guy — he wasn’t that in his prime, after all — but he could be better than what he was earlier this season. Even league average Sabathia would be huge at this point. That would be a major upgrade over what he’d been doing since the start of 2013.

Regardless of whether the new knee brace has led to tangible improvement or this is all just a dumb luck hot streak, Sabathia has stepped up of late and is now helping the Yankees get to the postseason. He’s the right man to help the rotation too. Sabathia’s a Grade-A competitor who cares so deeply about his teammates — “I think if anybody knows me, it hurts me more to let the team down than for myself,” he said to Wally Matthews — and has been through the late-season wars before. He knows what it takes to be ace, to bear the responsibility of being The Man. CC is the right man to give the staff a lift.

“I’ve always said that he’s important to us,” said Girardi to Jennings. “Because he’s been through this, and he’s a competitor. I’ve said, I didn’t think we were going to get him back, when he left that game. I really didn’t. But he did, and he’s important to us.”

Saturday Links: Sabathia, Betances, 2016 Travel

"No you idiot, I said sell! SELL!" (Janette Pellegrini/Getty)
“No you idiot, I said sell! SELL!” (Janette Pellegrini/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays continue their ultra-important four-game series with a doubleheader this afternoon. It’s a single-admission doubleheader too. One ticket gets you in the door for both games. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time before the first game.

Sabathia nominated for Marvin Miller Man of the Year award

CC Sabathia has been selected as the Yankees nominee for the 2015 Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, the MLBPA announced. Each team nominates one player, who is selected by his teammates, for the award. Fans then vote for one finalist per division — the voting ends midnight tomorrow, by the way — and the players then vote for the winner. Here’s the fan voting ballot.

The Marvin Miller Man of the Year award goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Mariano Rivera won the award in 2013. He’s the only Yankees player to win it since it was created in 1997. Carlos Beltran was last year’s nominee and was voted the AL East finalist. Just being nominated is an honor. Go vote for CC.

Betances will try new protective head gear next spring

Earlier this week, a representative from the MLBPA was in the Yankees clubhouse showing the pitchers new protective head gear, reports George King. This is not the head gear Alex Torres wears. It’s something new. This model has some sort of ear flap designed to protect the temples.

“I will try it in Spring Training to see how it feels. Anything for protection,” said Dellin Betances. Adam Warren, Luis Severino, and Justin Wilson also tried it on. The Yankees had a scare when Bryan Mitchell was hit in the face by a line drive a few weeks ago, and while a protective cap probably wouldn’t have helped him, it was a reminder of how defenseless those guys are on the mound.

Yankees will travel 12th most miles in 2016

The 2016 regular season schedule was announced earlier this week, and, according to Baseball Savant, the Yankees will travel 35,252 miles next season. That’s the 12th most in baseball. As usual, the Mariners will travel the most miles (47,704) while the Cubs will travel the fewest (24,271) in 2016. That has been the case for years and years and years. The M’s are isolated up in the Pacific Northwest — their closest division rival is 800 miles away — while the Cubbies are centrally located. Their farthest division rival is 460 miles away. The Yankees are always in the middle of the miles traveled pack. They’re a little higher than usual next season because they’re making three West Coast trips, not two. Blah.

Game 138: Sabathia Returns


When we last saw CC Sabathia, he pulled himself from a start due to ongoing trouble with his right knee. At one point it appeared he would not pitch again this season. Joe Girardi admitted that was a possibility. Instead, Sabathia is back on the mound tonight with a new knee brace after spending the minimum 15 days on the DL.

The Yankees have a firm hold on the top wildcard spot, but catching he Blue Jays for the top spot in the AL East will not be easy, even with all those head-to-head games remaining. They need Sabathia to pitch well and pitch often. Soak up some innings each time out. They need as many as they can get these days. Here is the O’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. LF Dustin Ackley (!)
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cloudy and humid in New York, and there is rain in the forecast tonight. It’s not supposed to start until 10pm ET or so, but it’ll then continue through the night. That could be a problem. Hopefully they get the game in before the sky opens up. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner (elbow) is feeling “much better” but has not yet played catch. He is available off the bench and is expected to play tomorrow … Sabathia (knee) has been activated off the DL, obviously. Rosters are expanded, so no other move was required.

While out with knee injury, CC Sabathia became crucial to the Yankees’ postseason chances

CC Sabathia1

Boy. When it rains, it pours. Brian Cashman delivered some bad injury news prior to last night’s game, announcing Nathan Eovaldi might not return until the postseason due to elbow inflammation. That’s assuming the Yankees make the postseason, of course. The GM also said Mark Teixeira is still on crutches and it’s unclear if he’ll return this year. Brett Gardner? He jammed his shoulder a few weeks ago crashing into the wall.

Greg Bird has stepped in and held down the fort while Teixeira has been out. Despite last night’s ugly game, I’m not sure anyone could have reasonably expected Bird to play this well in the middle of a postseason race in what is his first taste of the big leagues. Replacing Gardner is a bit more tricky even with expanded rosters, though he is expected to rejoin the lineup soon, possibly tonight. Hopefully he gets back on track with a healthy shoulder.

Replacing Eovaldi is another matter. It’s not possible to replace him, at least in the sense that the Yankees can’t replace the pitcher Eovaldi was after picking up the splitter, meaning the guy who had a 2.93 ERA (2.93 FIP!) in 12 starts and 73.2 innings following the disaster in Miami. That guy was awesome. Adam Warren is expected to step back into the rotation and it’ll take a few turns to get him stretched all the way back out. The timing is really bad.

Even with Warren coming back, the pressure is suddenly on CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start tonight’s series finale against the Orioles. Sabathia spent the minimum 15 days on the DL and his importance to the team increased while he was on the shelf. Eovaldi’s hurt and both Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova have been inconsistent at best since returning from their injuries. Luis Severino has been awesome since he was called up, but he is only one pitcher.

Sabathia was kept in the rotation earlier this season simply because of his contract. That’s all there was to it. No contender who pushes the “World Series or bust” mantra keeps a pitcher with a 5.01 ERA (4.44 FIP) in his last 395.1 innings in the rotation because they think he’s one of their five best options. There was an argument to be made Sabathia was not even one of New York’s seven best starters at one point earlier in the season.

And yet he remained in the rotation because the Yankees were not ready to admit he’s a sunk cost. That’s fine. They can do whatever they want, they run and own the team. (And yes, I’m sure the Yankees were well aware Sabathia was hurting their chances of playing in the postseason. They’re not stupid.) Now the story is different. Now Sabathia will be in the rotation because the Yankees have no other choice. They’re out of pitching depth. It’s been stretched to the max.

I have little reason to believe Sabathia can be even an average starter going forward. I thought he would bounce back a bit coming into the season with a healthy knee, but that didn’t happen. I thought maybe Sabathia would improve as the season progressed and he shook off the rust after missing so much time last year, but that didn’t happen either. I’m not falling into the same trap again. If Sabathia contributes in a meaningful way going forward, it will be a surprise to me.

That said, I won’t ever doubt Sabathia’s effort level or his desire to help the team. He’s a leave it all out on the field type. Always has been and always will be. For better or worse, Sabathia is going to give the Yankees whatever he has, and at this point that’s all they can ask from him. Go out every fifth day, grind it out, and do what you can to help the team win. That’s all. There’s nothing more the Yankees can do. They’ve exhausted all their options.

In a way, Sabathia has a chance to redeem his season these next few weeks by pitching well and helping the Yankees get to the postseason despite all these injuries. He’s been The Guy before, any sort of pressure to win won’t be new to him, it’s just a matter of being able to get outs with a compromised knee and whatever’s left of his fastball. Sabathia’s a total gamer and right now the Yankees need him more than they’ve needed him at any point in the last three seasons. CC is suddenly a key piece of the rotation.