Way Too Early Lineup Musings

2015 Wild Card Game Lineups

Spring Training may still be about a month away and, despite their relative quietness this Hot Stove season, the Yankees may not be done adding to or tinkering with their team. However, it’s never too early to start dreaming on the lineups we’ll see throughout the year, even with the general knowledge that lineup construction doesn’t always have a big effect on the macro level.

Over the last few seasons, the Yankees have a had a good deal of year-to-year lineup turnover due to players leaving the team or leaving the game altogether–or returning to it in Alex Rodriguez‘s case. Before this three year stretch of 2013-2015, we’d usually see the Yankees cycle out a DH or a random position here or there, but things were generally consistent and well-balanced. That hasn’t been the case for the last few years, though we could see a return to that in 2016.

The return of Mark Teixeria will help restore some needed right-handed power to the lineup, and Aaron Hicks will look to replicate what Chris Young did. Hicks also joins two other switch hitters, Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley. Starlin Castro gives the Yankees a dedicated righty hitter in their infield who can hopefully fit into the lineup in a variety of ways.

There is no shortage of ways the Yankees could deploy their hitters against right handed pitchers. Joe Girardi could stack lefty/switch hitters in the first four spots of the lineup and not give the other team a platoon advantage until fifth, or even sixth if he really wanted to:

1. Brett Gardner
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
3. Carlos Beltran
4. Mark Teixeira
5. Brian McCann
6. Alex Rodriguez
7. Chase Headley
8. Didi Gregorius
9. Starlin Castro

You could flip Didi and Castro if you’d like, but I imagine Girardi would want to break up the lefties at the turn of the lineup. Of course, swapping Ellsbury and Gardner is possible as well. Given Gardner’s slight power advantage over Ellsbury, that might make some sense, provided Ellsbury returns to his non-2015 form. The 3-4-5-6 spots are also fairly interchangeable; at their best, any of those players can carry a team offensively and having them anchor the lineup, even at their advanced age, is an okay thing.

Against lefties, there’s an opportunity for Girardi to really shake things up and get pretty frisky. It all hinges on just how much he plans on platooning Gardner/Ellsbury/Hicks. It’s very likely that Aaron Hicks winds up playing in a ton of games–like Chris Young did this year–just as a defensive replacement for Carlos Beltran late in games. But he’s also here to hit lefties, something Ellsbury struggled with in 2015, leading to a benching in the Wild Card game. If we assume Ellsbury sits a fair amount against lefties, we could see something like this:

1. Gardner
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Teixeira
5. Rodriguez
6. McCann
7. Castro
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

If it’s Gardner who ends up sitting against lefties, it’s likely that Ellsbury would still hit at the top of the lineup. After all, he’s got the name and he’s got the big contract. But, in a more “just” world, perhaps this lineup could be trotted out:

1. Castro
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Tex
5. A-Rod
6. McCann
7. Ellsbury
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

Regardless of who sits and who doesn’t, the Yankees will likely feature a more balanced attack against lefties than they did in the second half and the Wild Card game last year. Their inability to hit lefties consistently certainly cost them and the front office seems to have recognized that with the acquisitions of Hicks and Castro. There are a ton of other permutations for each lineup, but I’m choosing to stay positive and assume some health for the Yankees (trust me, I know this could all fall apart very, very quickly).  What lineup combinations do you favor? Which ones did I forget? What are you dying to see, even if you know it’s probably a bit unrealistic? Even if we know they don’t make much of a difference, it’s still fun to play manager and adjust a lineup to our own liking. And at this time of year, when we’re all optimists, it’s easy to dream.

Fun with Statcast: Where does each Yankee hit the ball the hardest?

Carlos Beltran
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This past season, MLB and MLBAM made Statcast data available to the public for the first time. Things like spin rate and batted ball velocity were suddenly right at our fingertips. The info as presented still lacks context — I have no idea if a 96.8% route efficiency is good or bad or average — but it’s a start. More information is a good thing.

Batted ball velocity is an interesting one because intuitively, the harder you hit the ball, the better. There’s something to be said to having the ability to place the ball in a good location, but hitting the ball hard is a positive. There’s a pretty strong correlation between exit velocity and BABIP. From Rob Arthur:

Exit Velocity BABIP crop

The averaged batted ball velocity in the AL this season was approximately 88.7 mph. The Yankees as a team had an 88.6 mph average exit velocity, but that doesn’t help us much. The individual players are most important, so we’re going to look at them. Specifically, we’re going to look at where each Yankee hit the ball the hardest, which for our purposes means 100+ mph. That sound good?

Before we start, it’s important to note exit velocity by itself is only so useful. Things like launch angle are important — it’s possible to hit a 100+ mph infield pop-up, for example — but there still hasn’t been a ton of research in that department. We’re going to keep it simple and just look at the pitch locations of the 100+ mph batted balls by each Yankee this past season. Got it? Good. So with a big assist from Baseball Savant, let’s dive in. (Click any image in this post for a larger view.)

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran 100mph

Beltran led the Yankees with exactly 100 batted balls with a 100+ mph exit velocity in 2015. Seventy-eight of them came against right-handed pitchers, which makes sense since 71% of his plate appearances came as a left-handed batter. Those numbers are in line with each other.

There isn’t much data against southpaws, so that doesn’t tell us a whole lot, other than Beltran liking the ball over the plate. The pitch locations against right-handed pitchers is far more interesting. Beltran hit away pitches the hardest this past season. Almost all of his 100+ mph batted balls as a lefty batter came on pitches in the middle of the zone or away. There’s very few on the inner half.

Beltran is not an extreme pull hitter from the left side but he definitely doesn’t use the field a whole lot — only 20.3% of his batted balls as a lefty were to the opposite field in 2015. He pulled 45.2% and the other 34.5% went back up the middle. He’s able to do that despite hitting away pitches harder than inside pitches. Interesting! Being able to hammer outside pitches is cool, but would taking slight step back away from the plate better allow him to cover the inner half?

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez 100 mph

A-Rod was second on the team in 100+ mph batted balls with 92. It appears he hits the ball the hardest in the lower half of the strike zone, and he also does a better job driving balls on the outer half of the plate, which is also interesting. Pulling inside pitches is anecdotally a good way to create exit velocity.

Chase Headley

Chase Headley 100 mph

Headley was third on the team with 69 batted balls of 100+ mph, so yeah, the gap between Beltran and A-Rod and everyone else was massive. Twenty-five of Headley’s 69 100+ mph batted balls, or 36.2%, came as a right-handed batter, which matches up with his plate appearance split (31% as a righty).

Again, the “vs. LHP” plot doesn’t tell us much because there’s not a ton of data, but wow, look at the “vs. RHP” plot. Headley loves down and away pitches, huh? Or at least that’s where he hit the ball the hardest in 2015. He didn’t drive anything — and by drive I mean hit a ball 100+ mph — up in the zone or in the inner half. So far the data has been the exact opposite of what I expected. I figured we’d see most 100+ mph batted balls on pitches up and/or in.

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira 100 mph

If not for the shin injury, Teixeira would have been among the team leaders in 100+ mph batted balls, if not the leader outright. He had 66 of ’em. Teixeira has that big long swing from both sides of the plate so he loves outside pitches. The vast majority of his 100+ mph batted balls came on pitches on the outer half if not off the plate entirely. Let Teixeira extend his arms and he can do major damage.

Brian McCann

Brian McCann 100 mph

Another outer half guy. The Yankees have all these pull hitters and yet most of them seem to hit outside pitches the hardest, and McCann is no exception. He tied Teixeira with 66 balls in play at 100+ mph. It’s amazing to me McCann and the other guys can reach out and pull a pitch that far away from them with such authority. So if you want to limit hard contact, I guess the best way to pitch these guys is inside? That sounds a little weird given their pull tendencies, but the pitch location plots don’t lie.

Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner 100 mph

Okay, this is more like what I expected. Gardner is an all-fields hitter and the majority of his 53 100+ mph batted balls came on middle-middle pitches. There are a few on the inner half and a few on the outer half, but in general, Gardner hit the ball the hardest when it was right down the middle. That makes perfect sense. Brett’s not a brute masher like most of the other guys ahead of him in this post. He makes the hardest contact on mistake pitches over the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury 100 mph

Ellsbury had 46 batted balls register 100 mph or better and, like Gardner, most of them came on middle-middle pitches. He did some more damage on down and away pitches and less on inside pitches than Brett, but generally the pitch locations are similar. These two aren’t power hitters. The pitcher has to give them something in the heart of the plate for them to really drive it.

Didi Gregorius

Didi Gregorius 100 mph

Ellsbury had one more 100+ mph batted ball than Gregorius in 77 fewer plate appearances. Didi is another guy who does most of his damage on pitches out over the plate, but he also showed the ability to reach out and drive pitches on the outer half this past season. Well beyond the outer half too. Gregorius had a handful of 100+ mph batted balls on pitches off the plate. Pretty crazy.

The Yankees worked with Didi this summer and in June or so he seemed to make a concerted effort to use the opposite field more often. His plot of 100+ mph batted balls ostensibly reflects that approach.

Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley 100 mph

This plot covers Ackley’s entire season, not just his time with the Yankees. He had 47 total 100+ mph batted balls in 2015, including nine with the Yankees. Ackley has tremendous natural hitting ability, and although it hasn’t shown up in the stats yet, he does a good job of covering the entire plate based on the plot. He hit balls 100+ mph that were in, out, down, middle-middle … basically everywhere but up, which doesn’t appear to be uncommon.

I am really curious to see a full season of Ackley next year, and not just because of this plot. Getting away from the Mariners and into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium is one hell of a change of scenery for a talented left-handed hitter.

Greg Bird

Greg Bird 100 mph

Bird wasn’t around very long this past season but his 35 batted balls with a three-figure exit velocity were ninth most on the team, ahead of guys with (many) more plate appearances like Chris Young (30) and Stephen Drew (24).

Based on the pitch location plot, Bird does his most damage on pitches down in the zone, which sorta jibes with opponents trying to beat him upstairs with fastballs all the time. I don’t think Bird has an uppercut swing, or at least not an extreme one like McCann or Teixeira, but the lower half of the strike zone is his wheelhouse. He can go down and golf pitches.

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks 100 mph

Hicks, who so far is the Yankees’ only notable pickup of the offseason, had 35 batted balls of 100+ mph last season. As a right-handed batter, he was all about the low pitch. He could really go down and drive low pitches with authority from the right side of the plate.

As a left-handed batter, Hicks had the hardest contact on pitches middle and away. Not so much inside. That is his weaker side of the plate, historically, but being a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium comes with some perks. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Yankees and the hitting coaches do with him next season. There are reasons to believe Hicks is on the verge of really breaking out.

* * *

The Yankees had a bunch of other guys on the roster this past season who are still with the team, but they didn’t hit many 100+ mph batted balls at all. That group includes Rob Refsnyder (seven 100+ batted balls), Slade Heathcott (seven), Brendan Ryan (four), and Mason Williams (three). Click the links in parentheses for each player’s pitch location plot, if you’re interested.

The Many Errors of Chase Headley [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last offseason the Yankees had exactly one infielder under contract. That was first baseman Mark Teixeira. They needed a new second baseman, a new shortstop, and a new third baseman. It was a clean slate, which is both good and scary. Having to rebuild three-fourths of an infield in one offseason is a lot of work.

The Yankees opted to re-sign Chase Headley to play third base. He provided strong two-way play after coming over at the trade deadline last summer — Headley hit .262/.371/.398 (122 wRC+) and played the hell out of the hot corner in 58 games — so they gave him a four-year deal worth $52M in mid-December. Headley reportedly turned down a $65M offer because he enjoyed his time in New York so much. His first full season in pinstripes didn’t go as well as his first half-season.

A Monster in Spring

As a team, the Yankees scored 1,283 runs from 2013-14, the fourth fewest in the AL. And, coming into 2015, there were major questions about the offense. Teixeira was coming off a brutal second half, Carlos Beltran had offseason elbow surgery, Brian McCann had a disappointing first year in New York, Alex Rodriguez … gosh, who knew what to expect from A-Rod? Lots of questions.

Headley, who turned 31 in May, had a history of being an average or better hitter. No one expected him to repeat his monster 2012 season (31 homers and a 145 wRC+) but league average output built more on OBP than power was a reasonable expectation given his track record. Then Headley absolutely mashed in Spring Training, putting up a .305/.349/.543 line with five doubles and three homers in 21 games. At the time, it was easy to think he could step into the middle of the lineup should one of the other veterans falter.

A Streaky First Half

The first few weeks of the season were a bit weird for Headley. He went 15-for-59 (.254) in his first 15 games with five multi-hit games mixed in there. Headley also hit two homers in his first six games of the season, including this game-tying blast in the bottom of the ninth against the Red Sox on April 10th.

That was the 19-inning marathon loss, so the homer ultimately went for naught, but it was a pretty huge hit at the time. The Yankees struggled big time out of the gate — they lost four of their first five games, yuck — and Headley had a knack for big hits in the second half last year. He came through again that night.

The rest of Headley’s first half was really streaky. He’d be great for two weeks (.327/.382/.510 from May 16th to 30th), slump for two weeks (.212/.241/.250 from June 2nd to 16th), his power would disappear (24 games and 109 plate appearances between homers from May 26th to June 22nd), then reappear in a hurry (two homers in his next five games). Most players are streaky but Headley was really streaky in the first half.

Headley went into the All-Star break hitting .255/.310/.373 (87 wRC+) with eight homers, which was definitely below expectations. His walk rate (6.8%) was down compared to his career average (10.0%). And yet, when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, Headley stepped into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and hit .291/.340/.376 in the interim. That’s pretty good. It was an up and down first half and the Yankees were going to need more from their third baseman down the stretch.

Second Half Headley

Throughout his career, Headley has a history of being a better hitter after the All-Star break. He’s a career 102 wRC+ hitter in the first half and 122 wRC+ in the second half, so there was some reason to expect improved performance after the All-Star break.

Sure enough, Headley came out of the gate strong after the break, hitting .327/.407/.473 (145 wRC+) in 42 games and 167 plate appearances from the All-Star break through the end of August. He still wasn’t hitting for power (only two homers) but was doing pretty much everything else. Headley had his best game of the season on August 30th, going 3-for-3 with a double, a homer, and two walks in a blowout win over the Braves.

September was rough for Headley, as it was for many of his teammates. He hit .179/.252/.223 (23 wRC+) overall with a 28.5% strikeout rate, which is ghastly. Seemingly no one hit that final month, but geez, Headley was especially bad. He of course started the wildcard game — it was the first postseason game of Headley’s career — and went 0-for-2 with a walk.

All told, Headley put up a .259/.324/.369 (91 wRC+) batting line with eleven home runs, a 7.9% walk rate, and a 21.0% strikeout rate in 156 games and 642 plate appearances this season. The average and OBP are fine, you can live with that from a guy who spent the majority of the season batting sixth and seventh, but where was the power? Solid so-called clutch stats — .258/.324/.435 (108 wRC+) in high-leverage spots and .285/.350/.482 (124 wRC+) with runners in scoring position — helped offset that a bit.

The Disappearing Power

Outside of that huge 2012 season, Headley’s never really been a power hitter throughout his career. Obviously spacious Petco Park had something to do with that, but, even on the road, Headley only mustered a .158 ISO as an everyday player with San Diego from 2009 through the trade in 2014. That’s more or less league average.

This year though, Headley hit only those eleven homers, his lowest total in four years, and had a career low .110 ISO. That’s in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium, remember. Headley’s a switch-hitter who was better against lefties (104 wRC+) than righties (86 wRC+), and there was no significant difference between his home (six homers and .110 ISO) and road (five homers and .111 ISO) power numbers.

We only have one year of exit velocity data right now, so that won’t help us much. Quality of contact data from Baseball Info Solutions, which is recorded by human stringers and inherently includes some scorer bias, will have to serve as a substitute. Here’s is Headley’s batted ball data since becoming an everyday player:

Chase Headley batted ball

The first thing that jumped out to me was the spike in infield pop-up rate. Headley’s IFFB% from 2010-14 was well below the league average (~9.5%). Infield pop-ups are usually just misses, unless you’re talking about an old school power dude with an uppercut swing, like Teixeira or Adam Dunn.

Furthermore, Headley’s ground ball rate didn’t spike this year. If he had suddenly started beating the ball into the ground, then it would explain where his power went. Ground balls don’t go for extra base hits all that often. The spikes in soft contact and hard contact rates are indeed huge, and yet, the league averages this year were 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%. Headley’s rates this season were out of line with his previous seasons but not the league averages.

Of course, Headley is a switch-hitter, and those numbers lump his left and right-handed swings together. Since he did damage against southpaws this summer, let’s focus on his lefty production. Here are three left-handed spray charts. From left to right you have Headley’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. I recommend clicking the image for a larger view.

Chase Headley 2013-15 spray charts

Headley, like many left-handed hitters, tends to pull his ground balls to the right side of the infield, which is why he gets shifted. This past season he hit way more line drives (the yellow dots) to left field as a left-handed hitter than he did in 2013 or 2014. It’s been a gradual progress — some liners to left in 2013, more in 2014, then even more in 2015.

That’s a good thing! Line drives to all fields are pretty cool. The problem is the lack of line drives beyond the middle of the outfield. The 2013-14 spray charts show a bunch of yellow dots to the warning track/wall in left field. This season there was one. So all those liners to left were short line drives, which are not the kind of line drives that result in power.

The extra liners to left this year — again, this is as a left-handed batter only — could be a one year fluke. Weird stuff happens sometimes. It could also be the result of working with a new hitting coach and a change in approach. Headley could have intentionally being going to left to avoid all those frustrating shifts. It could also be that his bat has slowed and he can’t turn on pitches like he once did. That could also explain the just missed pop-ups.

I don’t think anyone is expecting Headley to hit 30+ homers. Maybe not even 20+. But eleven dingers for a guy who bats the majority of the time as a lefty in Yankee Stadium? I was expecting more. The sharp spike in pop-ups combined with all the additional balls to left field give me some hope it was mechanical — Headley was focused on going the other way, something he’s not really used to doing. That’s my hope, anyway.

The Disappearing Defense

Errors are a bad way to evaluate defense, but holy moly did Headley commit a lot of errors this summer. Twenty-three total, by far a new career high (previous career high: 13 back in 2010) and the fifth most in baseball behind Marcus Semien (35), Ian Desmond (27), Starlin Castro (24), and Brett Lawrie (24).

Twelve of those 23 errors were throwing errors and many of them came on routine plays, like this one:

I can’t imagine how many errors Teixeira saved Headley with scoops at first base too. Headley still made some truly outstanding plays this year though, so it’s not like he forgot how the field entirely. I mean, look:

The defensive tools are there. But the throwing miscues piled up this year, and when you watch him play — plus the fact most of the errors came on routine plays — it’s hard not to think the problems are mental. Just look at the release on the throwing error in the video a little while ago:

Chase Headley error

Headley’s tentative. He takes his time, steps into the throw — I count three steps between fielding the ball and the throw — swings his arm back, then the throw sails away. Headley made a ton of throws like that this year and, to be fair, most were on-line. But many more were off-line compared to what you’d expect from a big league third baseman.

Here’s Headley making a fairly routine play last year, for comparison:

Chase Headley 2014 throw

There’s conviction behind that throw. Headley fields the hop and throws a dart to first base in one nice and fluid motion. That’s how big leaguers are supposed to play third base. There was no thinking there. It was all reaction. That wasn’t the case this year.

For what it’s worth, the errors did not come as frequently later in the season. Headley committed a ridiculous 16 errors in his first 69 games at third base and only seven in his final 86 games. That’s still a lot though! This is a guy who committed eight errors total in 127 games last year.

To me, it doesn’t look like anything is physically wrong with Headley. He looks like a guy dealing with a mental block, or the yips if you prefer. This isn’t a severe Knoblauchian oh my gosh he can’t throw ever again case of the yips, but Headley struggled this year. He didn’t look sure of himself, and getting over the yips can be really tough. Lots can go wrong during that long throw from third base.

“I did the extra work, but it wasn’t one thing to look at. More than anything I had gotten to the point a little bit where I was getting caught in between,” said Headley about his throwing problems this summer. “Hopefully it’s behind me and hopefully it makes me mentally stronger.’’

Looking Ahead to 2016

Headley has three years left on his contract and even though he doesn’t have a no-trade clause, I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would trade him. Not because they wouldn’t be able to find a taker, but because there are almost no viable replacements available. The best free agent third baseman is David Freese — or Daniel Murphy, I suppose we should count him — and the Yankees don’t have anyone in the system ready to step in. Headley figures to be back next year and hopefully he gets over his throwing issues. Finding some power is a secondary concern to the throwing in my book.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

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

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

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

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

Headley’s deadly September

Sadly, there wasn't too much of this for Chase in 9/2015. (Photo credit: Richard Perry/The New York Times
Sadly, there wasn’t too much of this for Chase in 9/2015. (Photo credit: Richard Perry/The New York Times

There’s not much of a way around this: 2015 was, on aggregate, just plain bad for Chase Headley. On top of committing a career high 23 errors–seriously, what was up with that?–Chase had the worst offensive season of his career, notching new lows in wOBA (.307) and wRC+ (91), edging out 2010 (.313/98) for his least productive full season ever. Overall, Headley hit .259/.324/.369, .307/91; his ISO clocked in at 110, continuing a downward trend that started after his powerful 2012 (.212): .150 in ’13 and .130 in ’14. There were bright spots for him, specifically July and August. He tore the cover off the ball in those steamy summer months, hitting to a .386/146 wOBA/wRC+in July and .376/139 in August. The other side of the coin, though, was just as bad as that side was good. Headley essentially went belly up in June (.267/64) and September (.220/32). Since it’s most recent, and was most disastrous, we’re going to focus on September here, which also featured a 28.5% strikeout rate and a .045 ISO for Headley, both very indicative of his September struggles.

To figure out what went so wrong in September, we’re going to compare that lost month to the salad days of July and August in my favorite way possible: breaking down how he did and what he did against certain pitch types. You can find July and August’s numbers here and September’s here. As we often do, let’s start with fastballs, good ol’ number one.

Chase feasted on fastballs in his good months, hitting .333 against them. In September, however, that trend was reduced. Part of the reason was he just stopped making contact with them. In July/August, his whiff/swing% on fastballs was 12.96. In September, it hopped up to 16.67%, resulting in 11 total strikeouts on fastballs for the month; he only had eight strikeouts on fastballs in July and August combined. A similar trend appeared in Headley’s “performance” against curveballs in September. While both segements of time were fairly unproductive from a results standpoint, his “process” against curves was hideous in September, when he missed on 63.64% (!!) of the cuts he took against Uncle Charlie. This only resulted in three strikeouts for the month (one total in July/August), but it’s easy to assume that pitchers were using curveballs to get ahead of Headley or put him further behind in counts, exploiting this new hole in his swing.

Aside from the lack of contact against certain pitches, there was a problem with the contact Headley was making in September. There was no sting in Headley’s swing in September, evidenced by the aforementioned .045 ISO he compiled for the season’s final month. Three pitch types and their results can enlighten us here. Against sinkers, changeups, and sliders in particular, Headley was just beating the ball into the ground, resulting in a lot of easy grounders for infielders. When putting those pitches in play, Headley saw increases of 10%; 33.97%; and 53.92% respectively. The sinkers he put in play saw a dramatic decrease in power, going from a .333 ISO in July/August to an .059 ISO in September. Changeups told a similar story. His BA against them in July/August was a robust .321, compared to a meager .182 in September. He also recorded no extra-base hits against changeups in September, whereas he had an ISO of .182 against that pitch in July and August. For pitchers looking for a grounder against Headley, a slider was invaluable, as he produced a worm-burner 83.33% of the time and failed to get even a single hit (!) against sliders for the entire month of September.

Whether it was pitch-recognition, injury, or just a funk in his swing, something went way wrong for Headley in the season’s final month. Between whiffing and hitting grounder after grounder, he must’ve been glad for the season to come to a close. Whatever it was, I’m certain he and whoever the next hitting coach (I nominate Alex Rodriguez for player/coach) will work to fix it.

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

PITCHERS (9)
RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

CATCHERS (3)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (7)
2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

OUTFIELDERS (6)
RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Injury Updates: Eovaldi, Drew, Headley, Ellsbury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Orioles will play a split doubleheader later today following last night’s rainout. The first game will begin a little after 12pm ET. Here are some important injury updates via George King, Meredith Marakovits, and Ryan Hatch.

  • Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) threw a bullpen session yesterday, his first since going down with inflammation. “Everything felt great. I threw 25 pitches, 18 fastballs and seven splits,” he said. Eovaldi will throw a 35-pitch bullpen session Monday, and if that goes well, he’ll then face hitters in live batting practice or a simulated game. There is no chance Eovaldi will be available for the wildcard game Tuesday, but Joe Girardi acknowledged an ALDS roster spot “is something we will look at” should the team advance.
  • Stephen Drew has a “vestibular concussion” and he is unlikely to return this year, even if the Yankees go deep into October. “Right now (his return is) doubtful because he still has the symptoms,” said Girardi. That’s a shame. Drew wasn’t great this season, but you never want to see anyone’s season end due to injury, especially a brain injury. Also, this more or less guarantees Brendan Ryan will be on the postseason roster as the backup infielder.
  • Both Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury are scheduled to play one game of today’s doubleheader. Both were sidelined Thursday with back soreness but were available off the bench if necessary. “They are both better,” said Girardi. Headley said he wants some at-bats this weekend and not have such a long layoff before the wildcard game.