Yankeemetrics: Light at the end of the tunnel? [May 13-15]

Chase "Mr. Clutch" Headley (AP Photo)
Chase “Mr. Clutch” Headley (AP Photo)

Raise the white flag
Friday’s pitching matchup between Chris Sale and Luis Severino looked like a complete mismatch on paper, and that’s how it played out in real time as the White Sox crushed the Yankees, 7-1, in the series opener.

Sale went the distance, dominated the Yankees lineup and moved to 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA this season. He also lowered his career ERA versus the Yankees to 1.17, the best mark against the Yankees by any pitcher in major-league history who has made at least five starts against the team.

Holding the Yankees to one run on six hits, Sale also became the first White Sox pitcher with a complete game win at Yankee Stadium since Jim Abbott on July 18, 1995. The last White Sox pitcher to allow one run or fewer in a nine-inning complete-game win at Yankee Stadium was Neil Allen in 1986.

Severino was removed in the third inning after surrendering seven runs, and fell to 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA in seven starts. The only other Yankees in the last 100 years to go winless in their first seven starts of the season, and lose at least six of those games, were Chien-Ming Wang (2009), Doyle Alexander (1982) and Stan Bahnsen (1969).

Two good to be true
The Yankees bounced back from Friday’s deflating loss with a 2-1 victory on Saturday afternoon, improving to 9-2 against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium since the start of 2013, their best record in the Bronx against any team over the past four years.

The win was also their first this season when scoring fewer than three runs; entering Saturday, the Yankees were 0-16 in those games, the worst record among all MLB teams.

Ivan Nova, making his second start of the season, was outstanding in giving the Yankees 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He’s now allowed one run or fewer in six of his seven starts against the White Sox, including all three at Yankee Stadium. His 2.42 career ERA versus Chicago is the best by a Yankee pitcher in the Wild Card era (min. 44 innings).

Dellin Betances relieved Nova in the sixth inning and struck out all four of the batters he faced. That’s the second time in his career he’s thrown more than an inning and punched out every guy.

He is the only Yankee pitcher in the last 100 years to have multiple outings like that. Two other active pitchers have two such games on their resume: Steve Geltz (Rays) and Kenley Jansen (Dodgers).

Milestone Man (mlb.com)
Milestone Man (mlb.com)

Don’t call it a comeback
Slowly, but surely, the Yankees are starting to dig themselves out of the massive hole they dug themselves into during the first month of the season. After taking the rubber game on Sunday afternoon against White Sox, the Yankees clinched their third series in a row and finished off a strong 10-game homestand at 7-3.

Carlos Beltran, hitless in his previous three games, broke out of that mini-slump in style with a towering home run in the sixth inning to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. It was also the 400th of his career, putting Beltran in rare company with some of baseball’s greatest sluggers. He is the:

  • 54th player in MLB history with 400 career homers;
  • eighth player to reach the 400-homer milestone in a Yankee uniform (Babe Ruth, A-Rod, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano);
  • fourth switch-hitter to reach the milestone (Chipper Jones, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray);
  • third Puerto Rican in the exclusive club (Carlos Delgado and Juan Gonzalez).

Beltran’s legacy is more than just homers, though, he’s one of the best all-around, five-tool players. There are now three players in major-league history with at least 400 homers, 75 triples, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases in a career: Beltran, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

While Beltran provided the biggest milestone moment of the game, Chase Headley delivered the decisive blow with a two-out, pinch-hit RBI double in the bottom of the seventh that broke a 5-5 tie. It was his fifth go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later since his debut in pinstripes on July 22, 2014. That’s tied with A-Rod for the most go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later among Yankees during that span.

Yankeemetrics: Let the good times roll [May 9-12]

(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

It is high, it is far …
The Yankees turned back the clock on Monday night, showing a rare display of offensive fireworks and power in their 6-3 win over the Royals in the series opener. They hit a season-high five homers, all of them in the first three innings. The Yankees entered the week with only 25 homers, tied for the second-fewest in the AL; they’d hit just five homers in their previous 11 games combined.

A five-homer game isn’t rare by itself, the Yankees have done that more than 100 times in their history, but to score only six runs … now that’s something. Only six other times have the Yankees scored six or fewer runs in a game they also crushed at least five longballs.

Royals starter Chris Young served up all five dingers before getting the hook in the third inning. He’s just the second pitcher in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow at least five home runs and get fewer than nine outs against the Yankees. Rob Bell also pulled off the feat on August 1, 2001 in a game the Yankees won 9-7 over the Rangers at the Stadium.

Aroldis Chapman made his season debut and his left arm looked to be in mid-season form, with six of his 17 pitches hitting triple digits on the radar gun, per Statcast data. Four of those fastballs were 101 mph or faster, matching the same number that all other major-leaguers had thrown in the first month-plus of this season.

Small-ball wins games, too
One day after the Yankees rode the gopher ball to their 12th win of the season, they flipped the script and used a bunch of timely singles, doubles and productive outs to get lucky No. 13. This time it was the Yankee pitchers that were bit by the home run bug, allowing four longballs on the night.

The only other game in the last two decades that the Yankees won while giving up at least four home runs and hitting zero was September 25, 2014 against the Orioles. That’s not an insignificant game, if you remember. It was Derek Jeter‘s final home game, one that ended with The Captain putting a bow on his storybook career with a game-winning, walk-off single in the ninth inning.

Lorenzo Cain would have been the hero in Tuesday’s game, if the Yankees hadn’t pulled out the victory. Cain hit three home runs, becoming the first center fielder to do that against the Yankees since Ken Griffey Jr. on May 24, 1996. He also joined Bo Jackson (1990) and George Brett (1978 ALCS) as the only Royals to go deep three times against the Yankees. Finally, Cain is the ninth visiting player with at least three dingers at Yankee Stadium (including the postseason) — but the only other guy that was on the losing end was Brett.

Little Mike
The Yankees crashed back to reality on Wednesday night as their familiar failures resurfaced in a 7-3 loss to the Royals: ineffective starting pitching (see Pineda, Michael) and awful clutch hitting (1-for-13 with RISP). Their modest two-game win streak was snapped, leaving them as one of three teams (along with the Padres and Astros) this season that haven’t won more than two games in a row.

This is the latest into a season (32 games) that the Yankees have failed to put together a win streak of at least three games since 1925. That team had its first three-game win streak on July 30, in its 95th game, after sweeping the St. Louis Browns.

Michael Pineda‘s struggles in the first inning have become a significant problem – he’s now got a 15.43 ERA and batters are hitting .500/.535/1.026 against him in the opening frame – but his lack of control was also really troubling. He walked four guys and plunked two more, the first time he’s ever done that in a game in his career. The last Yankee to produce a pitching line like Pineda’s (six runs allowed, four walks, two hit batters) was Randy Johnson on April 29, 2006 against the Blue Jays.

(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Miracle on 161st Street
Our long national nightmare is finally over. With one swing of the bat, Chase Headley broke out of the most miserable slump of his career and did it in style, drilling a two-run homer to left field in the second inning of Thursday’s game. That was his first extra-base hit of 2016, snapping a 90 at-bat streak that was the longest to open a season by any Yankee player since Roy White in 1973 (93 at-bats). Hey Chase, keep your chin up: White somehow ended that season with 43 extra-base hits (18 homers, 22 doubles, 3 triples).

Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius also joined the homer parade, powering the Yankees to a convincing 7-3 win over the defending world champs. The Yankees are now an impressive 10-1 when scoring at least four runs in a game, the third-best record in such situations, behind only the Cubs (24-2) and Mariners (16-1). That’s the good news. The bad news is that even after Thursday’s victory, no team has fewer games scoring four-or-more runs than the Yankees this season.

The Yankees could use a 2005-esque shake-up, but they don’t have a lot of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Eleven years ago the Yankees had a truly miserable start to their season. They opened the 2005 season by losing 19 of their first 30 games and falling nine games back in the AL East. Nine back after 30 games! Needless to say, fans were pretty uneasy because that slow start followed the 2004 ALCS collapse. It was not a good time around these parts. No siree.

The 2005 Yankees rebounded of course, winning 84 of 132 games following the 11-19 start. Two reasons they turned it around were a pair of early-May call-ups: Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees shook things up and were rewarded when Cano and Wang had an immediate impact. Robbie hit .297/.320/.458 (105 wRC+) in 132 games and Wang had a 4.02 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 116.1 innings. They gave the team a real shot in the arm.

Getting Wang into the rotation was pretty easy because Jaret Wright got hurt. (Remember when Wright failed his physical and George Steinbrenner signed him anyway because he thought it would lure Leo Mazzone to New York? Good times.) Getting Cano into the lineup took more creativity. The Yankees moved Tony Womack to left field, Hideki Matsui to center field, and basically benched Bernie Williams, who was nearing the end of the line.

The 2016 Yankees, like the 2005 team, have gotten off to a terrible start. They’re 8-15 overall and have lost 13 of their last 17 games. The AL East is much more competitive these days too. Back in 2005 it was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a bunch of pushovers. Erasing that nine-game deficit was much easier. The current Yankees are six games back in the division with four good teams ahead of them. It’ll be an uphill climb, that’s for sure.

Given their sluggish start and the fact the Yankees have underachieved on both sides of the ball in the early going — the offense has been far worse than the pitching, but the rotation hasn’t been all that good either — the team could use an early-May shake-up like the one the 2005 team received. The problem? The Yankees don’t have a Cano and/or Wang waiting in Triple-A. There’s not much depth at the positions of obvious need. Here are some shake-up ideas.

Give A Young Outfielder Regular Playing Time

If there’s one thing the Yankees have in Triple-A, it’s outfield depth. Both Ben Gamel (136 wRC+) and Aaron Judge (125 wRC+) are off to nice starts, though Slade Heathcott (41 wRC+) has mostly struggled. The Yankees also have Aaron Hicks at the big league level, though he hasn’t played much for a variety of reasons. (Hicks may not seem young, but he’s only a year older than Heathcott.)

Brett Gardner (110 wRC+) has been one of New York’s most productive hitters in the early going. Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) and Carlos Beltran (91 wRC+) have not. Beltran has really struggled of late. He has a 16 wRC+ over the last two weeks. Yikes. Sitting Ellsbury and/or Beltran more often in favor of Hicks or Gamel or Judge or whoever is one way to change the lineup and get some young legs on the field.

I think the best way to go about this is to use a regular rotation that also includes Alex Rodriguez and the DH spot. Something like this, perhaps:

LF CF RF DH
Game One Gardner Ellsbury Beltran A-Rod
Game Two Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod
Game Three Gardner Young OF Beltran A-Rod
Game Four Gardner Ellsbury Young OF Beltran
Game Five Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod

Ellsbury, A-Rod, and the young outfielder would be playing four out of every five games while Beltran is reduced to playing three times out of every five games, with only two of three starts coming in the outfield. Gardner stays in there full-time because, you know, he’s actually been good this year. The Yankees reduced Bernie’s playing time in 2005 and it’s time to start thinking about doing the same with Beltran.

Calling up Gamel or Judge or Heathcott requires a roster move and cutting someone else loose, and it’s a little too early for that, I think. I’d start by playing Hicks more often. No, he hasn’t hit in the early going (-47 wRC+!), but it’s 28 plate appearances in 23 games. This is a guy who hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals last year, and we’ve already seen the kind of impact he can have at defense.

Hicks is not going to get his bat going while sitting on the bench. He’s been an everyday player his entire career. This bench thing is new to him. With two of three starting outfielders not really hitting and the team reeling, it’s time to see what Hicks can do with regular at-bats. The Yankees need to figure out what they have in him.

Stick Headley On The Bench

I’ve defended Headley as much as anyone but I can’t do it any longer. He’s been atrocious this year, hitting .156/.267/.156 (24 wRC+) with nary an extra-base hit in 75 plate appearances. As Jared Diamond pointed out yesterday, Headley is only the 13th player in history to start May with a sub-.150 slugging percentage in at least 70 plate appearances. That’s brutal.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

I don’t care how good a player is on defense — Headley has rebounded quite well in the field after last year’s error-fest — there is a minimum acceptable standard on offense and Headley is not meeting it. The Yankees can talk all they want about the quality of his at-bats or how close they think he is to snapping out of it. The bottom line is this is a results oriented business and Headley’s results have been dreadful one month into the season.

The problem at third base is the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement. Womack stunk back in 2005 and Cano was the obvious candidate to take over. Who can replace Headley at third? Ronald Torreyes? Moving players with bench player skill sets into a full-time role usually turns out poorly. Rob Refsnyder? Pete Kozma? Donovan Solano? Solano is hitting .312/.341/.351 (100 wRC+) in Triple-A, you know.

Since no obvious replacement exists, I’d go with the highest upside candidate: Refsnyder. He’s new to third base — he’s played 153.1 career innings at the hot corner between Spring Training and Triple-A — and his defense is rough, but he might actually hit. Stick him at third, get three at-bats out of him, then pull for defense in the sixth-ish inning. When you hit as poorly as Headley has, you losing playing time. That’s the way it should work.

(Yes, I know Refsnyder hasn’t hit much in Triple-A this year. I’m not too concerned about that though. It’s been cold in Scranton and he’s spent a lot of time learning a new position. As long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine.)

Play Ackley or Swisher?

One the biggest reasons the Yankees scored the second most runs in baseball last year were bounceback seasons from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season and no one knew what to expect from him in 2015. Teixeira was terrible in the second half of 2014. He hit .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) with only five homers after the All-Star break that year.

Dustin Ackley hasn’t played a whole lot this year (18 plate appearances!) because it’s tough to get him into the lineup. He’s stuck in the same role as Garrett Jones last year. Teixeira and A-Rod are not doing much damage right now — Rodriguez has looked much better of late, to be fair — and giving Ackley some of their at-bats could spark the offense. This would complicate the outfield plan outlined above. That’s not worth worrying about right now.

The alternative here would be Nick Swisher, who owns a .340/.370/.540 (167 wRC+) batting line with three homers down in Triple-A. I can’t say I put much stock in a 12-year veteran mashing minor league pitching though. Swisher has two bad knees and he’s hit .204/.291/.326 (75 wRC+) in the big leagues the last two years. Call him up and I suspect you’ll get closer to 2014-15 MLB Swisher than 2016 Triple-A Swisher.

This is where Greg Bird‘s injury really hurts. Calling up Bird to take at-bats away from Teixeira and A-Rod would be far more realistic and, likely, far more successful than the Ackley/Swisher plan. With those two you’re just hoping small sample size success translates to long-term success. Ackley was terrible all those years with the Mariners before raking in pinstripes in September. Swisher was bad from 2014-15 and has had a few good weeks in Triple-A. That’s all it is.

The Yankees have had some success turning veterans who looked washed up into useful players (see Chavez, Eric), so we shouldn’t completely write off Swisher as a possibility. Either way, Ackley or Swisher, taking at-bats away from A-Rod or Teixeira is one potential way to inject some life into the offense. For what it’s worth, I think this is the least likely suggestion in this post.

* * *

I’m not sure what the Yankees could do to shake-up the pitching staff other than maybe swap out some relievers. I guess they could replace Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, or Luis Severino with Ivan Nova. My guess is Nova’s going to end up making a bunch of starts at some point anyway. Point is, the Yankees have reached the point where some kind of change needs to be made. The problem is they don’t have a lot of internal options. What you see is what you’re going to get with this team.

Yankeemetrics: Stump Merrill’s Revenge [April 29-May 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Two is not enough
The series opener in Boston played out like a recurring nightmare for the Yankees this season: get an early (albeit small) lead, miss out on countless scoring chances to build that lead, and lose. The 4-2 loss was the ninth time this season that the Yankees lost despite holding a lead at some point in the game. Through Friday, that was the most “blown losses” of any team in the majors. (And of course they added to that total later in the series.)

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing a mammoth, two-run homer over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie. It was his 14th career go-ahead homer against the Yankees; over the last 50 seasons, the only players with more home runs that gave their team the lead against the Yankees are Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice, both with 15.

Ortiz’s game-winning blast came off an 83-mph hanging curveball from Dellin Betances, the second straight outing he’s given up a homer with the breaking pitch. In his first nine games this season, batters had one single in 24 at-bats (.042) ending in Betances’ curve, and 20 of the 23 outs he recorded with the pitch were strikeouts.

With A-Rod also going deep earlier in the game — he became the oldest Yankee to homer against the Red Sox since Enos Slaughter (age 42) in 1959 — it marked the first major-league contest since at least 1913 in which a 40-year-old homered for each team.

How low can you go?
“April is the cruelest month” – T.S. Eliot
It is getting harder and harder to describe the depths of the Yankees anemic offensive production this season — lifeless, horrific, dreadful, ghastly, grisly — there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to properly put it into perspective. It is a lineup that struggling so badly it practically defies explanation.

The Yankees are reaching new lows each night, the latest coming on Saturday after they were blown out by the Red Sox, 8-0. It was their worst shutout loss at Fenway Park since losing 10-0 on August 2, 1973, a.k.a. the immortal days of Horace Clarke, Gene Michael and Felipe Alou anchoring the Yankees lineup.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 8-14 on the season, finishing up their worst April since going 6-11 in 1991. Their gross offensive numbers are even more mind-numbing:

  • 3.36 runs per game is their fewest in April since 1984
  • .360 slugging percentage is their worst in April since 1989
  • .304 on-base percentage is their worst in April since 1972

Chase Headley has to wear the hat as the team’s worst performer in April, ending up with an unfathomable line of .150 /.268/.150. He tallied just nine singles the entire month and somehow drove in two runs in 19 games played, and one of them was on a sacrifice fly.

Most notably, his 71 plate appearances without an extra-base hit during the month are the second-most by any Yankee in April, behind only Roy White (84 in 1973). And Headley just barely edged out Mike Ferraro – who slugged .148 in April 1968 – for the worst slugging percentage this month over the last 100 seasons by a Yankee (min. 50 PA).

When it rains, it pours
On a night when the Yankee bats finally woke up from their deep slumber, their pitching failed miserably as the Red Sox completed the three-game sweep with a 8-7 win. This is the seventh time in franchise history they’ve lost at least 15 of their first 23 games; only once in those six previous seasons did they finish with a winning record, going 87-75 in 1984 after a 8-15 start.

A-Rod gave the Yankees a brief 3-1 lead in the third inning with his second homer in this series and his 39th homer in pinstripes against the Red Sox. He passed Yogi Berra for the fifth-most by a Yankee in this storied rivalry, trailing only Babe Ruth (90), Lou Gehrig (70), Mickey Mantle (69) and Joe DiMaggio (46). The homer also gave him 5,764 total bases in his career, moving ahead of Ruth for second place in American League history.

Two innings later A-Rod hit a booming double off the wall to put the Yankees ahead again, 5-4. That was his 544th career two-bagger, tying Derek Jeter for 31st on the MLB all-time list. He finished with four RBIs, becoming the oldest visiting player ever with at least two extra-base hits and four RBIs in a game at Fenway Park.

Dellin Betances came in to get the final out of the seventh inning with the score tied 6-6, and promptly served up a monster homer to the first batter, Christian Vazquez, on a 97 mph first-pitch fastball. It was the third straight outing he had allowed a home run, the first time in his career he’s done that. Vazquez had one homer in 214 career at-bats before he hit the go-ahead shot, and entered the game with a slugging percentage of .190 on pitches 95-plus mph.

Headley must start hitting the ball in the air more often to get out of his slump

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Last night the Yankees played their 19th game of the season, moving their record to 8-11. They’re now 11.7% of the way through their schedule, so while it’s still early, it’s not that early anymore. Outlier performances are being corrected and stats are starting to look a little more normal. No one is hitting .400+ with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title anymore. That sort of thing.

Through those 19 team games, Chase Headley has been one of the worst hitters in baseball and the worst hitter in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. He is hitting .157/.290/.157 (36 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances, which places him 191st out of the 196 qualified hitters in wRC+. Those 62 plate appearances are the most by any player with zero extra-base hits. (Kolton Wong is the only other player over 50 plate appearances with zero extra-base hits.)

“I haven’t had a problem with his at-bats … He’s taking his walks. He’s been patient. I don’t think he’s really left the zone a whole lot. He’s just not getting a lot of hits, and that will change. If you’re putting up good at-bats, things are going to change. So for him, they’ll start to turnaround,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty last week, and he’s right in the sense that Headley has been patient. His 16.1% walk rate is 16th highest among those 196 qualified hitters.

The walks are the only thing saving Headley at the plate right now. When he has actually swung the bat, very little has happened. His 25.6% hard contact rate is well below the 30.1% league average, and five of his eight hits have been ground balls through the infield. That’s bad. Headley’s plate discipline has been fine. He’s swinging at the right pitches and all that. But when he makes contact, nothing is happening.

“For me, just trying to find something that allows me to get into the air a little bit,” said Headley to Kuty. “I’ve hit a lot of balls hard this year that, if you hit balls on the ground, there’s a lot more of a chance they’re going to catch them. So for me to be who I think I can be, I need to get the ball in the air. (I’m) just working on some things to try to do that mechanically, put myself in a good position to stay behind the ball a little bit and hopefully that will happen.”

Headley is right in that he needs to get the ball in the air to be productive, that is true of everyone, but his overall 43.6% ground ball rate is right in line with his career average (44.6%). That said, Headley is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. He has two different swings and that means twice as much stuff can go wrong. Here are some real quick ball-in-play splits:

GB% as RHB Hard% as RHB GB% as LHB Hard% as LHB
2013 41.0% 41.0% 48.1% 32.1%
2014 37.1% 41.6% 42.2% 33.0%
2015 47.3% 26.7% 40.7% 28.4%
2016 21.1% 26.3% 65.0% (!) 25.0%

It goes without saying the sample size for 2016 is still very small. Headley has had 32 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and 30 against lefties, so yeah. In that very limited sample Headley has hit a ton of fly balls against lefties and a ton of ground balls against righties. That’s … interesting. His hard contact rate is similar, but the ball has come off his bat in different directions from each side of the plate.

Headley’s numbers are better as a lefty (84 wRC+) than as a righty (-15 wRC+) so far, but I’m not going to put too much stock into that at this point. More importantly, if Headley keeps hitting 65.0% grounders as a left-handed batter, he’s not going to do much better than an 84 wRC+. He’s got to get the ball in the air at some point, especially in Yankee Stadium. And at the same time, if he keeps lifting the ball as a righty, that -15 wRC+ will come up eventually.

Through 19 games it appears Headley has corrected whatever issues he had defensively last season. His throws has been fine — he made one error but that’s no big deal, most players have made an error at this point — and he’s shown off good range too. Defense was always a huge part of Headley’s value and now he has that back. Even though he’s not hitting, he can contribute in the field and save runs.

Now Headley has to figure out how to get his bat back on track, and he has to do it soon, because the Yankees have zero alternatives at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the type of player who will get exposed quickly with regular playing time, Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting in Triple-A (46 wRC+), and none of the other minor league infielders (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano, etc.) are appealing. It’s too early to start thinking trade too.

Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Headley for the time being. I’ve been saying I think his offense will be fine, mostly because I can’t imagine his .205 BABIP will last all year, but at some point Headley has to, you know, hit. April is coming to an end soon. It’s time to get it going. Headley has to start getting the ball in the air more often as a left-handed hitter. That’s priority No. 1 right now. Do that and things will start to fall into place.

Chasing the Pull

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

Things have not gone well for Chase Headley in 2016. This isn’t an argument; it’s plot summary for the season so far. As I write this, Headley’s line sits at .159/.296/.159 through 14 games and 54 plate appearances. He and Cardinals’ infielder Kolton Wong are the only two hitters in the Majors who are qualified for the batting title yet to find an extra-base hit this year. Unsurprisingly, Headley’s wOBA/wRC+ are in the tank at .229 and 40 respectively. While it’s still early and there’s plenty of time for Headley to rebound, there’s a continuing trend in his hitting that could be behind his lack of production.

Pulling the ball has gotten a bad rap in baseball of late, probably thanks to the emergence of the shift against hitters who tend to pull. Regardless o that, think of all the times you’ve heard an announcer call something “a good piece of hitting.” Chances are that ball has been shot back up the middle or taken to the opposite field, right? Both of those things are great, but rare is the time when someone will deign to call a pulled ball “a good piece of hitting.” For Headley, pulling the ball–or not doing so–has been at the heart of his production and the drop therein.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Chase’s production as a pull hitter has been dropping steadily since 2012. In that season, he had a .488/220 wOBA/wRC+ split on pulled pitches. As the years went on, those numbers declined to .433/185; .374/143; .359/127; .221/34. All of those–excepting 2016–have been productive. Those drops, though, are also reflected in his overall production; Headley’s season wOBA/wRC+ numbers have dropped each year since 2012 as well. There has also been a decline in power to his pull field from a high mark of .360 in 2012, followed by .277; .237; .206; .000.

Since Headley is a switch hitter, let’s break this down by left and right. As a left handed batter, hitting to right field, Headley has a career wOBA/wRC+ of .397/156. However, that split shows the same downward power/production trend that his overall pull numbers do as well. Scrolling down that page on FanGraphs, we can find his soft/medium/hard contact rates against lefties while pulling the ball. For his career, he hits 12.3/54.6/33.1. So far in 2016, those splits are 12.5/75/12.5. Finally, a glimmer of hope! His soft contact rate is right in line with his career number, but the other two are completely out of whack. Given the small sample of this season, there’s some hope that the hard contact rate climbs back up to where it should be, with production in tow.

If we look at Headley pulling the ball as a righty hitter, there are similar trends. Per FG, he actually has not hit the ball softly to left this season: 0.0/75.0/25.0 (soft/medium/hard). His career soft% to left as a righty is 12.3, just like his lefty number. Medium% and hard% come in at 55.9 and 31.7 respectively.

My original intent with looking into Headley’s numbers was to find something, anything, that we could hang onto as hope for a rebound. These numbers–along with the fact that his walk rate (16.7%) is above his career rate (10.0) and his strikeout rate (20.4) is below his career rate (22.4)–suggest that maybe something good is around the corner. As those percentages balance out and his hard contact rate moves towards his career averages, more hits–hopefully one or two of the extra-base variety–should come along for the ride.

Some calm and collected thoughts about the struggling Yankees’ offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games last night, and in all six losses, the team scored no more than two runs. They again blew scoring opportunities and went 1-for-whatever with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. The Yankees are struggling in a bad way right now. It would be easy to go on a bumbling tirade against the offense — I’ve done my fair share of that over the years — but let’s not do that. Let’s talk about this offensive malaise in a calm and rational way, because we’re adults. (Well, most of you are.)

1. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who stands up for his players through thick and thin, but even he had to call out Didi Gregorius for his base-running blunder in the seventh inning last night. It was that egregious. “It’s bad base-running. You’ve got to understand what your run means … That’s a blunder we have to take care of,” said Girardi after the game. Gregorius had the entire play in front of him and he still didn’t stop to make sure he wasn’t tagged out. That’s Baseball 101. Every team is going to go into an offensive funk at some point(s) throughout the season, that’s just the way the games goes. But when you start adding bad mental mistakes on top of it, things get ugly. That was a bad, bad play by Gregorius. It’s the kind of play that earns someone a spot on the bench for a day or two.

2. Given the way the Yankees are built — and the way every team is built, really — their offense starts at the top of the lineup, and right now Jacoby Ellsbury is hurting the club. He did have the double and yet another catcher’s interference last night, but through 51 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury is hitting .220/.264/.320 (63 wRC+) with three walks. He’s currently in a 1-for-15 slump. The Yankees are going to give Ellsbury an awfully long leash thanks to his contract, so I don’t expect him to be moved down in the lineup anytime soon. Maybe Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will flip flop and in the one-two spots or something, but hitting Ellsbury seventh or eighth? Not happening. Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt in a way that impacts his performance for weeks or months — that’s exactly what happened with last year’s knee injury — so I can’t help but think back to that pitch he took to the wrist in Spring Training. Either way, Ellsbury is part of the problem right now. A big part of it.

3. This to me is the is the single biggest reason the offense has sputtered so much recently. Here are numbers since the start of the homestand:

Mark Teixeira: 1-for-15 (.067)
Brian McCann: 1-for-16 (.063)

Teixeira’s slump actually dates back to the Detroit series (3-for-30), though, to be fair, he is still drawing a ton of walks and providing value that way. Teixeira and McCann are not high average hitters, but they do hit the ball out of the park, and right now they’re not doing that. They’re not hitting much of anything. Gardner and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ two hottest hitters — they have a combined .463 OBP on the homestand — so they’re putting the team in position to score. The two guys hitting behind them are slumping bad and those opportunities created by Gardner and Beltran are being wasted. That’s why those two have scored six total runs on the homestand despite that .463 OBP, and three of those six runs have come on their own home runs. Getting Teixeira and McCann going is Priority No. 1 in my opinion. They are the keys to turning this mess around.

4. The Aaron Hicks Hate Train seems to be up and running already. The guy has 21 plate appearances in 13 games and eight of them have come the last two nights. The Yankees took a player who is used to playing every day and made him into a bench player, and that can be a tough adjustment. It looks to me like Hicks is pressing and trying to do anything he can to impress during his limited playing time. He saw four pitches in three at-bats last night. This is a guy with a 10.0% walk rate in the big leagues and a 14.4% career walk rate in the minors. Hicks is making more of an effort to be aggressive and swing at pitches in the strike zone, but I doubt he wants to be this aggressive. He’s jumping at everything. That’s not his game. The Yankees are going to see a lot of left-handed starters over the next week — my guess is either Gardner sits against Rich Hill tonight if his neck is still stiff, or Alex Rodriguez sits and Beltran slots in at DH — and hopefully that allows Hicks to settle in and feel more comfortable. He has a new role with a new team in a new city. No wonder why he’s started slow.

5. The bottom of the lineup has been pretty abysmal of late. Chase Headley has had a rotten start to the season with the bat — he’s one of only five players with at least 40 plate appearances and zero extra base hits — and his only saving grace right now is his batting eye. He’s drawn eight walks and has a .333 OBP — he didn’t draw his eighth walk until Game 32 last year — which is fourth highest on the team, believe it or not. But still, walking only gets you so far. Eventually Headley is going to have to do something more than push a ground ball single through the infield. Gregorius had two hits including a homer last night to snap a 3-for-25 (.150) slide and Starlin Castro has quietly gone 7-for-38 (.184) since the end of the Astros series. That’s not a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup. No one expects those guys to carry the team offensively, but they do have to provide support, and it’s hasn’t happened of late. When your fourth and fifth hitters slump like Teixeira and McCann have, you look for others to pick up the slack, and the bottom third of the lineup ain’t doing it.

6. I don’t see any potential quick fix for the offense. I suppose Girardi could shake up the lineup, but even if he does that, what lineup should he use? Bat Gardner and Beltran first and second, then make them go up to the plate in the three through nine spots wearing everyone else’s jersey? The Yankees are not a true talent .189 hitting team with runners in scoring position because I don’t think any lineup in baseball history is a true talent .189 hitting team in any situation. At some point Ellsbury will go on one of his insane hot streaks, and at some point Teixeira and McCann will hit a baseball out of the park. It’s going to happen. How soon? Soon, hopefully. Right now the best (only?) thing the Yankees can do is stay the course, clean up the sloppy mistakes like Didi’s base-running blunder last night, and wait for their good at baseball players to start being good at baseball again.