Game 42: Four in a row?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are in the middle of their first three-game win streak of the season. This afternoon is a chance to make it four straight and clinch a winning West Coast road trip, which would be pretty cool. These trips are always tough. The Yankees have the right guy on the mound this afternoon too. Here is the Athletics’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. LF Aaron Hicks
  7. RF Rob Refsnyder
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Another cool, cloudy, and windy day in the Bay Area. There’s also a tiny little bit of rain in the forecast too, though nothing that should really affect the game. Today’s game will begin at 4:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) will not be activated until Tuesday, Joe Girardi announced. The Yankees have an off-day Monday, so since Alex was not ready today, it only makes sense to give him the extra day tomorrow as well as Monday … Didi Gregorius is available to play but is a little banged up. He’s fouled a couple pitches off his foot these last few days and was hit by Headley’s ground ball in Arizona.

Didi’s bat starting to come around at just the right time for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Year one of the Didi Gregorius era did not get off to the best start. Didi struggled big time both in the field and at the plate early last season, so much so there was talk about sending him to Triple-A and playing Stephen Drew at short. The Yankees weren’t talking about that, but many fans were. He was playing that poorly. Thankfully, Gregorius turned things around in May and finished the season strong.

This season has not started well for Didi either. His defense has been more than fine, so it hasn’t been a total repeat of last year, but the bat has started very slow. Only Chase Headley has performed worse among the regulars. Gregorius came into the homestand in a 3-for-30 (.100) slump and hitting .215/.241/.316 (48 wRC+) overall. I was hoping his Opening Day home run would be the jumping off point for a strong second season in New York, but it hasn’t come together yet.

Things have gone a bit better on the homestand for Gregorius and the Yankees in general. The team has won four of five on the homestand, and Didi has gone 5-for-17 (.294) with a pair of bases clearing doubles in the five games. That has raised his season batting line to .229/.250/.344 (58 wRC+), which is still an eyesore. And yes, the caveat here is that those two bases clearing doubles were almost mistakes. This is the pitch he hit for the first:

Didi Gregorius David Price

That’s an 0-2 changeup almost in the dirt, the kind of pitch you typically want a hitter to take. Gregorius took a little defensive half-swing and dunked it into right field. Sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still works out. Baseball. Then, last night he took another little protect swing at an outside pitch and knocked it into shallow center. Didi almost threw his bat at the pitch.

Didi Gregorius Brian Flynn

Gregorius hasn’t been driving the ball all around the yard on the homestand, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to put the bat on the ball and hope to finds grass. You hear players and ex-players talk about it all the time: any little thing can help get you bust out of slump, even bloops and bobbles and bunts.

Most importantly, Gregorius is starting to hit the ball harder, and that’s always a plus. A total of 196 players had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in April, and Didi ranked 196th in hard contact rate (12.5%) and 189th in line drive rate (10.9%). Woof. Alcides Escobar had the second lowest hard contact rate at 14.3%, so the gap between Didi and the next worst hitter was substantial.

So far in May Gregorius has upped his hard contact and line drive rates up to 22.3% and 36.0%, respectively. He hard contact rate still isn’t great, so it’s not like he’s tattooing the ball, but at least he’s moving in the right direction. The next goal is being more disciplined. I know that 0-2 changeup from David Price went for a double, but if Didi keeps swinging at pitches like that, he’s going to get himself out more often than not. Look at his swing rates on the season:

BB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Zone%
2015 5.7% 33.8% 71.7% 47.0%
2016 2.0% 35.7% 75.6% 44.3%

Gregorius has never shown great discipline as a big leaguer and I’m not sure he ever well, but geez, he’s swinging at everything this year. Swinging at more pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%) is not automatically a bad thing. Swinging at pitches out of the zone (35.7%) is though, especially when pitchers are throwing you fewer pitches in the strike zone. Pitchers know they can get Didi to chase and he has obliged so far this year.

This isn’t a matter of simply taking more pitches. Gregorius has to do a better job staying back and differentiating balls from strikes. Swing at the strikes and take the balls. It’s easy and yet oh so difficult at the same time. Didi has made himself into too easy of an out because of how often he chases out of the zone. Pitchers have been exploiting that weakness big time this year. It’s something he must improve.

It was around this time last year that Gregorius started to turn things around. I don’t think anyone is asking him to be a force at the bottom of the lineup, but he needs to be more than a zero. Didi is hitting the ball harder this month and that’s a positive. It helps that some of those defensive swings are turning into three-run doubles too. He has to continue to work on his plate discipline going forward though. That’s the key. Gregorius has to make pitchers work harder to get him out.

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.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back, baseball (April 5-7)

(AP Photo)
Just call me Starsky. (AP Photo)

Deja Boooooo
After nearly five months of waiting for meaningful baseball games, the Yankees’ 2016 season started in familiar fashion with a loss to the Astros and Dallas Keuchel at Yankee Stadium, the same way the 2015 campaign ended.

The good news is that they managed to score against Keuchel, who entered the game with a 1.12 regular-season career ERA against the Yankees — the third-lowest by any pitcher in the last 100 seasons (min. three starts) — and riding a 28-inning scoreless streak versus the team. The bad news is that the end result was the same: another frustrating loss to open the season.

For the fifth year in a row and the seventh time in eight tries, the Yankees dropped game No. 1 on the schedule, matching the franchise record for most consecutive losses in season openers. The mark was set nearly eight decades ago, when they lost five straight Opening Day games from 1934-38.

Still, there were some notable highlights midst the carnage. Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius made history when they took the field as the first Yankee middle infield duo to start on Opening Day at age 26 or younger since Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent in 1978.

Castro then doubled in the first two Yankee runs of the season, becoming the first Yankee second baseman with a multi-RBI game on Opening Day since Alfonso Soriano in 2003 (Robinson who?). Gregorius completed the scoring with an eighth-inning homer. The only other shortstops in franchise history to homer on Opening Day were Derek Jeter (three times) and Bucky Dent (1981).

This is the first time in the last 100 seasons of Yankee baseball that both of the team’s middle infielders each had an extra base hit and an RBI in a season opener.

Sweet Sixteen
The temps were still chilly on Wednesday night but the Yankee bats heated up as they crushed the Astros, 16-6, in the middle game of this series.

Castro stole the show for the second straight day, delivering four hits while driving in five runs. The only other Yankees with at least four hits and five RBI in a game this early into the season were Bill Dickey (1934), Yogi Berra (1956) and Tino Martinez (1997).

His seven RBI in the first two games are the most by any Yankee in his first two contests with the team, and matched the franchise record for most RBI in the team’s first two games of the season. The three other guys to do that each have a plaque in Monument Park: Babe Ruth (1932), Berra and Martinez.

Mark Teixeira chipped in another two hits and four RBI, giving the team a rare offensive explosion from the right side of the infield. The last time the Yankees had their first baseman and second baseman each record at least two hits and drive in four or more runs in the same game was July 7, 1935. A couple Hall of Famers, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, combined for six hits and 11 RBI against the Senators.

The other dugout featured a young slugging phenom, too, as 21-year-old Astros shortstop Carlos Correa went 4-for-5 with two homers in the losing effort. Correa became the youngest player with four-plus hits, including at least two homers, in a game against the Yankees over the last 100 years.

Eight is enough
The Yankees took the opening series of the season after beating Houston, 8-5, in the rubber game on Thursday.

The offense has stolen the headlines in the first week of the season. This is now the seventh time the Yankees have scored at least 27 runs in the first three games combined. They won the AL pennant in five of the six previous seasons it happened, and the World Series three times.

The team’s seven homers are tied for the fourth-most through three games in franchise history, while their .962 OPS is the second-best by a Yankee team in the Wild Card Era this early into the season.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been less than good (mild understatement, yes!). They’ve allowed at least five runs in each of the first three games, making their 2-1 start even more impressive. The last time the Yankees gave up five-plus runs in three straight games to begin the season — yet still emerged with a winning record — was 1962.

Teixeira had the biggest hit of the game, a tie-breaking three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning that gave the Yankees a 8-5 lead. It was his 396th career home run, tying Joe Carter for 57th place on the all-time MLB list, and it was his 193rd with the Yankees, passing Tino Martinez for 17th on the Yankees leaderboard.

Castro, too, continued his scorching-hot start with another multi-hit game and a homer. His 1.250 slugging percentage and 1.833 OPS are both the best marks by any Yankee middle infielder with at least 10 plate appearances in the team’s first three games.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

Building the Most Sensible Lineup for the 2016 Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, the Yankees used something that looked awfully close to their projected Opening Day starting lineup. The only regular not in the lineup was Brian McCann, who is still nursing a sore knee after being hit by a foul tip over the weekend. It’s nothing serious. He’ll be back in a day or two. No reason to push it in mid-March.

As a quick reminder, here is the starting lineup the Yankees ran out there against the Blue Jays last night:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Gary Sanchez

I’m guessing a healthy McCann slots in at No. 6 behind A-Rod, bumping the other guys down a spot. That’s pretty close to the lineup the Yankees used for most of last season — the most common Yankees’ lineup last year was used only nine times, so yeah — which makes sense because almost none of the personnel has changed. Castro replaced Stephen Drew. That’s the only difference.

Obsessing over the lineup on a day-to-day basis is not really my thing anymore, though I do think it would be instructive to look over the projected batting order and try to figure out who fits best in each spot. The Yankees have a pretty straightforward lineup. We don’t have to rack our brains too much.

The Leadoff Man

This is the easiest, most predictable spot in the lineup. Ellsbury is going to hit leadoff. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. The Yankees are paying Ellsbury an awful lot of money to set the table and he was one of the most productive leadoff men in the game as recently as last May. The only time Ellsbury won’t hit leadoff this coming season is when he gets a day off. Right? Right. Next.

The Two-Hole

An lot of studies over the years have shown the No. 2 spot is the most important spot in the lineup. The No. 2 hitter gets the second most at-bats on the team and is responsible for both driving in runs (when the leadoff man reaches base) and setting the table (for the middle of the order). Ideally your best all-around hitter hits second. Who is the Yankees’ best all-around hitter? Beltran? I dunno.

An argument can be made Gardner is the team’s best hitter, at least when he’s healthy. He did hit .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) in the first half last season, after all. Gardner batted second most of last year and he fits that spot well because he can mash the occasional dinger and he’s one of the club’s best on-base guys. Prior to Ellsbury’s injury last year, he and Gardner were dominant from the 1-2 spots. They were on base a combined seven times a game it seemed.

Joe Girardi has discussed using Castro as his No. 2 hitter against lefties, which makes sense from a “he hits right-handed and Girardi likes to sit Gardner against lefties for some reason” point of the view. The problem? Castro hit .281/.304/.339 (76 wRC+) against lefties last year and .265/.309/.366 (86 wRC+) against lefties the last three years. Against lefties Gardner hit .276/.361/.400 (112 wRC+) in 2015 and .262/.337/.395 (104 wRC+) from 2013-15.

There also this: Castro is a big time double play candidate. He’s downright Jeterian with the double plays. Starlin had a 54.1% ground ball rate last year, 12th highest among the 141 qualified hitters, and throughout his career he’s banged into a twin killing in 16% of his opportunities. The league average hovers around 11% each year. Yes, Ellsbury steals bases, but he’s not going to steal every time he reaches base. Castro’s double play ability will short circuit a lot of rallies.

The way I see it, Starlin should show he’s an asset against lefties before giving him a primo lineup spot. Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt just because he’s a righty. When Gardner does inevitably sit against southpaw, Aaron Hicks would be a better No. 2 hitter option than Castro. Hicks hit .307/.375/.495 (139 wRC+) against lefties in 2015 and .272/.360/.447 (125 wRC+) against them the last three years. The Gardner/Hicks platoon is the best No. 2 option.

The 3-4-5(-6) Hitters

We know who is going to hit in the 3-4-5-6 spots: Beltran, Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann. The only real question is how those four players should be ordered. I have two opinions:

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. Teixeira should hit cleanup. He is is not only the Yankees’ best power hitter, he’s also one of their best on-base guys, which serves the team well whenever he leads off the second inning after the top of the lineup goes down in order in the first. Fourth is a good spot for him. You don’t want Teixeira batting any lower because it means fewer at-bats, and you also don’t want to hit him much higher because you want as many men on base as possible when he hits. Plus he’s a switch-hitter. He’s the perfect cleanup hitter.

2. McCann should hit sixth. At this point of his career, McCann is basically a grip it and rip it hitter. That’s not a bad thing, but all the fly balls — his 36.1% ground ball rate was 18th lowest among the 141 qualified hitters in 2015 — are not conducive to a high batting average. McCann has hit .236 with a .309 OBP and a .241 BABIP in over 2,000 plate appearances the last four years. Yes, he has a lot of power, but out of the four guys projected to hit in the middle of the lineup, McCann is the worst at not making outs. He’s great at capping off rallies with a dinger. He’s not so great at extending rallies.

That leaves Beltran and A-Rod for the No. 3 and 5 spots. If Rod hits like he did from April through July, you want him hitting third. If Beltran hits like he did from mid-May through the end of the season, you want him hitting third. Rodriguez did hit more homers than Beltran (33 to 19) and was better overall last season (129 to 119 wRC+), so maybe bat him in the three-hole. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here, though I do think Alex gives you a better chance at quick first inning offense with the long ball. So I guess that means my 3-4-5-6 hitters go Rodriguez-Teixeira-Beltran-McCann.

The Bottom Third

I know Castro is the new hotness and everyone is excited about him, but the reality is he barely out-hit Stephen Drew last season (80 to 76 wRC+). That level of production is not so fluky either; Castro had a 74 wRC+ back in 2013. He did sandwich a 117 wRC+ between those two awful seasons in 2014, and surely the Yankees hope that’s the Starlin they’ll get going forward. Until then, I think he has to hit near the bottom of the lineup.

In fact, the best lineup might have Gregorius batting eighth and Castro batting ninth to break up the string of lefties in the wrap-around 9-1-2 portion of the lineup. We saw more than a few teams bring in a lefty reliever and leave him in for a full inning against that part of the lineup last year. Said reliever was staying in even longer when Drew was in the lineup and McCann was hitting fourth. Teams could get two innings out of their left-on-left reliever no problem.

Headley was the best hitter of the three last season and projects to be the best hitter of the three this season (per ZiPS), so seventh is where he belongs. Personally, I’d like to see Didi hitting eighth and Castro hitting ninth for “break up the lefties” purposes, but I have a hard time thinking the Yankees will bat their big offseason pickup ninth. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. We’re nitpicking.

So after all of that, I think the most sensible Yankees’ lineup looks something like this:

  1. Ellsbury
  2. Gardner vs. RHP and Hicks vs. LHP
  3. Rod
  4. Teixeira
  5. Beltran
  6. McCann
  7. Headley
  8. Gregorius
  9. Castro

Like I said, Castro’s probably going to hit eighth with Gregorius ninth. That’s the only real difference between my preferred lineup and what is likely to happen. Beltran and A-Rod might flip spots depending who is swinging better at the time. Not batting Starlin second against lefties is the only thing I feel strongly about. That’s a mistake in my opinion. Let him force the issue before bumping him up.

Recent research has shown that, generally speaking, the difference between the most optimal batting order and the worst batting order is a win or two across a full season. Wins are important! But we’re not talking about a difference of ten wins here. The Yankees have a pretty easy to put together lineup, and as long as Girardi doesn’t do something silly like bat A-Rod eighth or Castro leadoff (which he won’t), the Yankees will have a solid offense on the field.