Benching A-Rod against righties is a good start, but there are other lineup changes worth making

But that's not any of Al's business. (Presswire)
But that’s none of Al’s business. (Presswire)

Later today, Alex Rodriguez will return to the lineup after spending the last two days on the bench. He wasn’t hurt. The Yankees are looking for ways to improve the offense and sitting Alex against right-handers is the solution they came up with. With lefty Cole Hamels on the mound tonight, A-Rod will be back in there.

“It’s a hard decision. Alex has meant a lot to this club over the years, but right now we’re gonna do something a little bit different and see how it works,” said Joe Girardi to Howie Kussoy yesterday. “It’s been tough for him against right-handers. That’s why we’re looking at this … You perform, that’s the bottom line. We’re in the business of performing. Things change. Nothing is set in stone.”

Rodriguez certainly has struggled against righties this year. The demotion is not undeserved. He’s hit .200/.236/.348 (50 wRC+) with a 31.7% strikeout rate against them so far, and his at-bats have looked pretty bad. A-Rod can’t seem to lay off sliders away and is getting chewed up by good fastballs. Removing him from the lineup against righties is necessary and smart.

That’s not the only lineup change the Yankees can and should make, however. Everyone involved keeps saying they’re trying to contend — “We can’t keep treading water. I want to be a contender, not a pretender,” said Brian Cashman to Josh Thomson yesterday — yet they can’t maintain the status quo and expect different results. It’s almost July. Here are some other changes the Yankees should make.

Give Teixeira’s Knee A Break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even with Mark Teixeira going deep the last two days, my guess is Rob Refsnyder will be at first base against Hamels tonight. Not only is there the left-right thing, but the Yankees had a very long night last night, and Teixeira also just played three straight games after coming off the DL with a knee problem. Girardi said they plan to give Teixeira a little more rest just to make sure the knee doesn’t flare up again. Makes sense, right? Right.

The Yankees have to do something to get Refsnyder at-bats and Teixeira’s knee is going to need regular rest, so this works well. Maybe something like three games on and one day off for Teixeira? Or two games on, one game at DH, and one day off? That will be difficult if these homers the last two days are a sign Teixeira is snapping out of his season long funk, but the Yankees can deal with that when the time comes. The point is to get Refsnyder some more at-bats. The kid has to play.

Drop Castro In The Lineup

There are 168 players qualified for the batting title as of this morning. Starlin Castro ranks 156th with a .285 OBP. That is terrible. I know he’s hit some big dingers and has generally been better than Stephen Drew, but man, his at-bats are consistently the worst on the team. He hacks at everything. Execute a slider off the plate in a two-strike count and Starlin will go fishing, no doubt about it.

Castro’s hot start and consistent dinger production — not to mention his age and contract — has bought him a long leash in a fairly premium lineup spot. He’s been hitting fifth or sixth for a while now. That has continued even though others, specifically Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley, have out-hit Castro for weeks now. Here are some numbers since May 1st, a totally arbitrary date I picked because it’s the start of a month:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ 2B HR BB% K%
Castro 209 .231/.260/.372 64 7 7 3.3% 19.1%
Gregorius 193 .311/.344/.443 110 10 4 4.1% 8.3%
Headley 183 .279/.344/.412 104 8 4 8.2% 21.9%

So yeah, Gregorius and Headley have been way more productive players for close to two months now. Benching Castro won’t (and shouldn’t) happen — he’s still only 26 and at least has a chance to be a building block player going forward — but dropping him in the lineup shouldn’t be off the table. Moving him behind Gregorius and Headley would be totally justifiable given their recent production.

Give Gardner & Ellsbury More Rest

Remember the plan to rest the regulars more often? The Yankees talked about it all offseason and in Spring Training. It hasn’t happened though. The team got off to a slow start, so Girardi kept running his regulars out there in an effort to get things turned around. As a result, Brett Gardner has started 64 of 75 games while Jacoby Ellsbury has started 61. That’s more than I think the Yankees originally planned.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Gardner and Ellsbury have slowed down of late. Gardner is hitting .273/.340/.295 (75 wRC+) over the last two weeks and Ellsbury is at .222/.255/.244 (32 wRC+). I don’t know if giving them one extra day on the bench a week while help things, but that was the plan coming into the season, right? That plan shouldn’t be abandoned, especially with the offense being so hit and (mostly) miss. It’s time to try something different.

I know most folks are done with Aaron Hicks but I’m nowhere near ready to give up on him. Clamoring for the Yankees to sell and wanting to move on from Hicks are conflicting ideas. I say give Gardner and Ellsbury that extra day of rest per week and stick Hicks in the lineup in their place. The two veterans get more rest and hopefully stay productive while Hicks gets some at-bats.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bonus Non-Lineup Suggestion: Get Nova Out Of The Rotation

Ivan Nova stepped into the rotation a few weeks back and strung together three very good starts. The rotation was a total mess at the time and Nova did a really nice job calming things down. Props. Lately though, Ivan has been a mess, and following last night’s dud he owns a 5.32 ERA (5.07 FIP) on the season. That can’t continue. Chad Green has a 1.54 ERA (2.25 FIP) in 81.2 Triple-A innings and lines up to take Nova’s spot perfectly. The Yankees have plenty of dead weight in the bullpen they can cast aside, so put Nova back into a long relief role and give Green a chance to show what he can do.

* * *

Are the Yankees doing all they can right now to give themselves the best chance to win? I don’t think so, not if Refsnyder is sitting on the bench for three days at a time and Nova is taking a regular rotation turn. Benching A-Rod is a good move that figures to improve the offense. There’s more than can be done though, and the sooner the Yankees start making other changes, the better off they’ll be. Sitting A-Rod should be step one, not the only step.

Update: Yankees sign Ike Davis to Major League deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Monday, 8:30pm: The Yankees have announced the Davis signing, so it’s official. He will wear No. 24. Chad Green was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear a 25-man roster spot and Layne Somsen was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Sunday, 2:46pm: Jon Heyman says it’s a done deal. It’s a Major League contract and Davis will be joining the team soon. The Yankees are carrying eight relievers and three-bench players at the moment, so they figure to go back to a normal seven-man bullpen and four-man bench soon.

2:00pm: The Yankees are on the verge of signing Ike Davis, reports Mark Feinsand. Davis opted out of his minor league contract with the Rangers earlier today. New York tried to sign him over the winter, but he went to Texas instead. It’s entirely possible Davis will join the Yankees right away. This might not be a minor league deal.

Davis, 29, hit .268/.350/.437 (111 wRC+) with four homers in 39 Triple-A games this season. Last year he put up a .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 74 games with the Athletics. Davis is a dead pull left-handed hitter with one of those Yankee Stadium swings. He’s hit as many as 32 homers in a season.

The Yankees have lost Mark Teixeira (knee), Greg Bird (shoulder), Dustin Ackley (shoulder), and Chris Parmelee (hamstring) to injury, so they’re down to their fifth string first baseman, converted second baseman Rob Refsnyder. They have Nick Swisher in Triple-A, but still needed more first base depth, especially since Swisher can opt-out of his deal this month.

Game 61: Win it for Parm

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Chris Parmelee quickly became something of a cult hero with the Yankees. Hey, when you make two starts and hit two homers in the first game and have a game-tying single in the second, people are going to like you. Unfortunately, Parmelee pulled his hamstring last night, further thinning the team’s first base depth. Parmelee didn’t wear pinstripes very long but he made an impact. Go win a game for him. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

Another gorgeous day in New York today. Sunny, no cloud, cool … pretty excellent weather. Hopefully it stays like this all weekend. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Parmelee suffered a Grade II hamstring strain and is going to miss about a month, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. Another first baseman bites the dust. Refsnyder is the go-to guy at first now.

Roster Move: Parmelee was placed on the 15-day DL and righty Chad Green was called up, the team announced. They don’t really need another arm — Green was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton tomorrow, so he’s available for very long relief if necessary — but an extra bullpener never hurts.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Yankeemetrics: Near-disaster in the desert [May 16-18]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Not in Scranton anymore
Heading out on their first West Coast trip of the season, the timing was ripe for an extended hot streak: Not only were the Yankees coming off a solid homestand where they won seven of 10 games, but they were set to play the Diamondbacks, a team that they had an 11-4 record against in the regular season, their second-best win percentage versus any franchise.

All that momentum and optimism came to a screeching halt on Monday night as they were creamed by the D-backs, 12-2. The Yankees basically sent out their junior varsity pitching squad – none of the four arms that got into the game were on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the season – and paid the price.

Arizona put a small army on the basepaths – 24 guys, to be exact – and pounded the Yankee pitchers to the tune of six singles, six doubles, one triple and two homers. That’s the second-most baserunners the Yankees have ever surrendered in an Interleague game, and the nine extra-base hits allowed tied the team record for an Interleague game.

Chad Green had a forgettable “Welcome to the Show” moment, allowing six runs on eight hits in four-plus innings. He’s just the second Yankee in the last 50 seasons to lose his major-league debut while giving up at least six runs and eight hits. The other was Christian Parker on April 6, 2001; that was the only major-league appearance of Parker’s career.

Green wasn’t the only Yankee to get his first taste of big-league hitters on Monday night. Conor Mullee also pitched in his first MLB game and looked very much like a rookie. He walked three guys and hit another, allowing one run in an innings’ work without giving up a hit.

There is a silver lining to his wildness, though: the last Yankee pitcher with at least three walks and a hit by pitch in his major-league debut was Dellin Betances on September 20, 2011 against the Rays.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Tiny Mike
In what has become a recurring nightmare for the Yankees, Michael Pineda delivered yet another maddening – and wholly disappointing – performance on Tuesday. Sure, the 27-year-old flashed some great stuff (nine strikeouts in five innings), but he was also awful at times (nine hits and five runs allowed) and threw far too many hittable pitches in the strike zone.

This is the third time in the last two seasons that Pineda has put up such a confusing line of at least nine strikeouts, nine hits and five runs allowed. Since 2015, no other major-league pitcher has done it more than once.

And looking at the sample of all Yankee pitchers in the last 100 seasons, only two others had three such games in their entire careers (Ron Guidry, Lefty Gomez). Somehow Pineda has done this in a span of roughly one calendar year.

Pineda’s ERA rose to an unsightly 6.60 after this latest dud, and coupled with Severino’s 7.46 mark, the Yankees are now the only team in MLB this season with two pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings and own an ERA over 6.50.

Finally, with two losses in the first two games of this three-game set in Arizona, the Yankees fell to 0-5-1 in series away from the Bronx. The last time they went winless in their first six road series of the season was 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Nasty, Nasty, Nasty Nate
Deep breath in, exhale out. Repeat.

The Yankees avoided the dreaded sweep in Arizona with a bounceback 4-2 win on Wednesday night. They still haven’t been swept in a road Interleague series of three or more games since June 2007 at Colorado.

Nathan Eovaldi pitched an absolute gem, giving up a lead-off double to Jean Segura and then retiring the next 18 batters before being removed after six fantastic innings of work. It was statistically reminiscent of some of the best games ever pitched in franchise history.

The last Yankee to throw at least six innings and allow no more than one baserunner was Mike Mussina against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001. Yes, that was Moose’s epic 13-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter, a.k.a The Carl Bleeping Everett Game.

And the only other Yankee to allow one or fewer baserunners in six innings pitched in Interleague play was David Cone against the Expos on July 18, 1999. Yup, his perfect game.

Brett Gardner gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead with a first-inning homer to right field, his 20th go-ahead home run since the start of the 2014 season. That’s the second-most go-ahead homers by any Yankee in that span, behind only Brian McCann (22).

Game 38: Which Pineda Shows Up?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night’s series opening loss to the Diamondbacks was ugly but not necessarily unexpected. The Yankees started a kid making his big league debut, and that’s always unpredictable, plus their best relievers were all unavailable due to their recent workloads. You’d still like to be able to steal a game under those circumstances, though more often than not you’re on the wrong end of the final score.

Tonight the Yankees are at full strength — or at least something approximating full strength — with Michael Pineda on the mound. Which Pineda will show up, the guy who gets hammered in the first inning or the guy with a knack for settling down and chucking scoreless innings? It would be nice to see the second guy without the first guy for once, you know? Here is the D’Backs’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ 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 Michael Pineda

It’s a bit cooler in Phoenix today than it was yesterday, meaning the temperature is in the mid-80s rather than the low-90s. The Chase Field roof will be open. Tonight’s game is going to start at 9:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has yet to run the bases at full speed, so it’s possible he won’t be ready to come off the DL when eligible Thursday.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up three players from Triple-A, they announced: Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder. Chad Green and Conor Mullee were optioned down while Phil Coke was designated for assignment. The Yankees are back to a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench, and they have an open 40-man roster spot now.

Chad Green’s need for a third pitch is obvious after his first big league start

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Thanks to Luis Severino‘s triceps injury, rookie right-hander Chad Green made his MLB debut last night, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk in four-plus innings against the Diamondbacks. He struck out five and allowed two homers. It wasn’t the worst first career start by a Yankee, but it wasn’t great either.

Despite the numbers, I thought Green’s raw stuff looked pretty good most of the game. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and he showed a sharp — albeit inconsistent — mid-80s slider at times as well. Here’s the PitchFX info for his outing, via Brooks Baseball:

Chad Green pitch selection

Getting six whiffs on 30 total swings against the fastball is really good! The slider … not so much. Green threw 19 sliders and only eight were strikes, though, to be fair, home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor seemed to have a tight zone all night. Both teams had some borderline calls not go their way.

What we don’t see in the PitchFX data is a third pitch, or more precisely a second offspeed pitch. The scouting report on Green says he started throwing a splitter last season but we sure didn’t see it last night. Arizona’s left-handed batters went 4-for-10 with only one strikeout and three swings and misses against Green. The lack of a second secondary pitch was a clear weakness.

This was never more obvious than during Jake Lamb’s fifth inning at-bat with runners on first and second. Green got ahead in the count 0-2 against the left-handed batter, but he had nothing to put Lamb away, so eventually the count ran full, then bam. Homer.

Chad Green Jake Lamb

(PitchFX classified a slider as a curveball for whatever reason. The manually classified data at Brooks Baseball corrected it.)

If there was ever a time to show the splitter, that was it. Green was facing Lamb for the third time — Lamb had a hit in each of his first two at-bats — and he had him in an 0-2 count with two runners on base in a tie game. It didn’t even need to be a good splitter. It only needed to be something different to keep the hitter guessing.

Green’s slider has reportedly improved over the last few weeks thanks to some tinkering by Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Tommy Phelps — “It seems to have some more depth, which is important. Obviously he’s got a very good fastball, and it’s got some sink to it,” said Joe Girardi to Wally Matthews — and that’s good. Improving a breaking ball is a positive. He’s going to need more than that slider to remain in the rotation long-term though.

Left-handed batters have punished Green in the minors — they hit .299/.355/.451 against him in a full season at Double-A last year — so this is an ongoing problem. The scouting report says he has a splitter, and I’m sure he does somewhere, but we didn’t see it last night and it hasn’t kept even minor league lefties at bay. I was impressed by Green’s fastball/slider combination overall against the D’Backs. That won’t be enough though. He’ll need to show a third pitch more often to have success as a starter going forward.