Game 29: Win it for Mom

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. You’re all pretty cool and I hope you had a wonderful day.

As for the Yankees, they’re on the verge of sweeping the Red Sox, and that’s pretty awesome. If you told me two days ago the Yankees would win two of three this weekend, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Now? Now I’m greedy. I want the sweep. Go make mom proud. Here is the BoSox’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Dustin Ackley
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Chase Headley
    RHP Luis Severino

It was just a gorgeous afternoon for baseball in New York today. Too bad this game has to be played at night. It’s still nice and pleasant out, but, you know, the sun has gone down. Lame. Tonight’s series finale will begin a bit after 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) remains day-to-day. If he is not ready in five or six days, the Yankees will consider putting him on the DL.

Game 28: Short-Handed

Cut that hair, Gamel. (Presswire)
Cut that hair, Gamel. (Presswire)

The Yankees never seem to win an easy game these days, and last night’s win was easily the biggest nail-biter of the season. Between injuries and workloads, the team is pretty short-handed today. Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) is banged up, Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) and CC Sabathia (groin) are on the DL, and neither Dellin Betances nor Andrew Miller is available because they’re pitched so much lately.

It’s a long season and inevitably you’re going to run into games like this along the way. No one is going to feel bad for the Yankees. All they can do is grind it out and figure out a way to win. They’ve won two of their last three, you know. That’s good. It’s something positive to build on. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Carlos Beltran
  6. RF Dustin Ackley
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s another cloudy and cool day in New York. At least it’s not raining though. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Ellsbury is still on the active roster but is expected to miss a few days. He doesn’t need a DL stint though … Sabathia played catch today and said he feels pretty good. He hopes he’ll be able to be activated after the 15 days and doesn’t think he’ll need a rehab start.

Update: Ellsbury day-to-day with strained hip muscle

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:28pm: Ellsbury is day-to-day with a strained hip muscle, the Yankees say. The MRI didn’t show anything serious.

8:27pm: Ellsbury left with a “tight right hip” and is heading for an MRI, the Yankees have announced.

7:46pm: Jacoby Ellsbury left tonight’s game with an apparent hip injury after the first inning. He drew a walk then stole second and third bases, and after the steal of third he was seen grabbing at hip right hip. Ellsbury trotted home gingerly on Brian McCann‘s single, then went to the clubhouse. Here’s the video.

The Yankees have not yet announced any updates on Ellsbury, so stay tuned. The Yankees lost Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) and CC Sabathia (hamstring) to injuries this week, and while losing Ellsbury would hurt, the team at least has plenty of outfield depth in Triple-A. Ben Gamel is on the roster now and would be a candidate to stick around, if necessary.

Ellsbury, 32, went into Friday’s game hitting .260/.315/.380 (94 wRC+) with one home runs and seven steals. He has a bit of a history of getting hurt and having the injury linger longer than expected. Hopefully that is not the case here.

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.

Caught In Between

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

In the outfield on a fly ball or line drive, in the infield on a hop, or at the plate anticipating a pitch, being caught in between rarely yields positive results. Sure, you can make a recovery from a bad read, make a diving stop on a grounder, or foul off what you thought was a breaking ball but was really a fastball, but those are the exceptions to the rule; nine times out of ten, the ball will sail over your head, skip over your shoulder, or be strike three, sending you back to the dugout looking just as foolish as if you misplayed a ball or got a bad hop. Being caught in between during the course of a game is bad; being caught in between in the roster-building process is even worse.

Whether on here through the offseason or on Twitter during April’s struggles for the Yankees, I’ve maintained a fairly positive view of the team. And in general, I still hold to that; I think they’ll wind up in the wildcard game again, though that’s getting harder and harder to justify as the team continues to not score at a prolific pace. But given the way this team is built right now, where they are now–right in between–is just about where they should be.

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

Is it possible that 2015 was the one out of ten I referred before? Is that season the diving catch? The lucky grab? The desperate foul-off? Since 2013, the Yankees have been attempting a rebuild-while-still-competing thing that has gone better than most teams’ attempts at that have, as they’ve managed to win 80something games each time and generally avoid being a complete embarrassment. That’s good enough for mediocrity, but it’s not good enough for future strength and it’s not good enough for present results.

The rebuild has been caught in between, despite the ostensibly admirable goal of looking to get younger and more flexible. After 2013, the Yankees could’ve kept to that and their goal of spending less money, but they went out and signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran instead of retaining their own player in Robinson Cano. Not wanting to sign Cano to a ten-year contract is completely defensible and I understand why the Yankees didn’t, especially in a post-Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols deals world. But to follow that up with signing three expensive players–one of whom has been borderline disastrous thus far–is the height of cognitive dissonance and a sign of a lack of commitment to a plan. If you’re going to spend, spend wisely. If you’re not going to spend, just don’t spend.

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

For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two of the last three years, the Yankees have surprisingly little to show for it. They haven’t drafted high. They don’t have a stocked farm system with prospects ready to make an impact with a reasonable chance of sustaining that impact, though, in fairness, that stems from their years of legitimate contention between 2009-2012. But at the same time, their Major League team isn’t quite good enough to compete for a championship. I’m not saying championship or bust; hat mindset led to a completely barren farm system and a fanbase that’s seemingly unwilling to sit through a rebuild. However, what satisfaction is there in being perpetually just good enough to compete for the wildcard?

It’s time for the Yankees to move out of being caught in between. Either flex the financial muscle that is so much stronger than any other team’s and be that behemoth of the past, or commit to an actual rebuild. No more half measures.

Saturday Links: All-Star Game, Ellsbury, Prospects, DL

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox continue their weekend series tonight at Fenway Park. Man, I hate Saturday night games. The game isn’t even on FOX but I blame them anyway. Blah. Anywho, here are some links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

2016 All-Star Game voting underway

It’s that time of the year again. Fan voting for the 2016 All-Star Game starters is underway and yes, it is ridiculously early. It is every year. Here’s the ballot. You’re allowed to vote up to 35 times per email address and the voting doesn’t end until June 30th, so you’ve got plenty of time to vote for Chase Headley over and over again.

Teams game-planning for Ellsbury’s catcher interferences

Already three times this season Jacoby Ellsbury has been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference. That’s unusual — there have been only three other catcher’s interference calls in all of baseball this season — but not for Ellsbury. Since 2008, his first full season, his 17 catcher’s interference calls are the most in baseball. No one else has more than 13.

Those 17 career catcher’s interference calls are fourth most in history, behind Pete Rose (29), Dale Berra (18), and Julian Javier (18). Ellsbury has proven to be so proficient at getting catcher’s interference calls that teams are now game-planning for it. From Jared Diamond:

It’s happened enough that Ellsbury has earned a reputation around the league. Hector Ortiz, the catching instructor for the Texas Rangers, said he normally teaches his catchers to set up at an arm’s length behind the batter. When the Yankees came to town this week, Ortiz took special care to warn his players about Ellsbury’s strange talent, and to prepare for it.

“If you’ve got a guy that is consistently dropping the head of the bat that way, then we want to be an arm and a half,” said Ortiz. “You talk about it, to get away. They move back and they stay away from that.”

I don’t think anyone is accusing Ellsbury of hitting the catcher’s mitt on purpose. That’s just his swing path and the way he lets the ball travel deep in the zone. Opponents are game-planning for it not only to keep Ellsbury off base, but also keep their catchers healthy. They don’t want anyone to reach out too far and wind up with broken fingers. What a weird skill.

Three Yankees among top 20 DSL/VSL prospects

Earlier this month the great Ben Badler posted his annual look at the top 20 prospects from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues last season. It’s not a ranking, just an alphabetical list of 20 names. The Yankees have three of the top 20 thanks to the 2014-15 international spending spree. The article is behind the paywall, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • SS Diego Castillo: “Castillo was one of the most polished, fundamentally sound players in the 2014 signing class, with excellent instincts in all phases of the game.”
  • OF Estevan Florial: “Florial has outstanding tools, with scouts hanging 70s on his speed and arm strength in center field. He has good bat speed and plus raw power, ranking second in the league in slugging.”
  • 3B Nelson Gomez: “Gomez (is) a physical righthanded hitter with huge raw power, though a lot of scouts were skeptical whether his swing-and-miss tendencies would allow his power to translate against live pitching.”

Castillo, 18, hit .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) in 56 DSL games last year. He signed for $750,000 and is a personal favorite as a deep sleeper. I’m a sucker for guys who are polished and instinctual at such a young age. Castillo should come stateside later this summer and play with one of the rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates, so prepare to hear much more about him in the coming weeks and years.

MLBPA pushing for 7-day DL

According to Joel Sherman, the MLBPA plans to push for a 7-day DL as part of the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLB. Right now the league has 15-day and 60-day disabled lists, as well as a special 7-day DL for concussions only. That 7-day DL comes with all sorts of concussion protocol, including approval from MLB’s medical director before the player can be activated.

Sherman says the union has pushed for a 7-day DL in the past, though it never received approval from the owners. Apparently there’s concern teams would manipulate the system, perhaps by putting a starting pitcher on the 7-day DL to gain an extra roster spot when he isn’t scheduled to pitch for a few days. I could totally see the Yankees doing something like that with a sixth starter, couldn’t you?

There is a 7-day DL in the minors, and once upon a time MLB had 10-day and 21-day disabled lists. There’s nothing special about 15 days. It’s just a round number. I’m in favor of a shorter DL to give teams some more flexibility — the Yankees played with a 23-man roster for a few days this week because Alex Rodriguez and Aaron Hicks were banged up — though I understand there are some things to work out. It’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Yankeemetrics: Heroes and zeroes [April 22-24]

Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)
Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)

Stealing a win
The Yankees woke up from their nightmare and temporarily broke out of their massive slump on Friday night, beating the Rays 6-3 in the series opener. Yes, six runs is considered an offensive explosion these days.

Jacoby Ellsbury may not have started the game, but he still delivered the most electrifying moment of the season so far, swiping home in the bottom of the fifth inning to even the score at 3-3. It was the first straight steal of home by a Yankee at Yankee Stadium since Gerald Williams on May 29, 1993 vs. the White Sox.

Ellsbury also sparked the offense with two hits and two RBI in three at-bats after taking over for the injured Aaron Hicks. He is the first Yankee in more than four decades — since Jerry Kenney in 1969 — to come off the bench and produce at least two hits, two RBI, a stolen base and a run scored in a game.

Let’s go streaking
Break out the champagne, folks … the Yankees finally put together a win streak with a dramatic walk-off victory on Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Brett Gardner was the hero, tying the game in the seventh inning with an RBI infield single and then earning himself a Gatorade shower with a two-out towering blast into the right field seats in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was his sixth career walk-off hit, the most by any Yankee since his debut in 2008.

Gardner also became just the third Yankee left-fielder in the last 85 seasons to hit a two-out, walk-off homer, joining Gary Thomasson (1978) and Charlie Keller (1941).

The Rays called up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to start the game and the 23-year-old lefty put on quite a show in the Bronx. He worked five innings, allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and a walk. Mixing his mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve plus a handful of changeups and sliders, Snell had a truly impressive and historic performance.

He is the only pitcher in the last 100 years to make his major-league debut against the Yankees and pitch at least five innings, allow no more than two hits while striking out at least six batters. The last guy to make his major-league debut against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and give up one run or fewer with six-or-more strikeouts was Luis Tiant in 1964.

No sweep for you
All good things must come to an end. The Yankees dropped the series finale on Sunday, failed to complete the three-game sweep and fell back into last place in the AL East.

Their offensive struggles continued with just one run scored on six hits, the eighth time in 17 games this season they’ve been held to two runs or fewer. That’s tied for the most such games in the American League this season.

As much as you can blame the cold bats for the loss, the Yankees were never in this game thanks to a horrible outing by Michael Pineda. The Rays pummeled him in the first inning, belting out six consecutive two-out hits — two of which left the ballpark — to take a 5-0 lead.

Pineda gutted out another four frames and finished with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: five innings, 10 hits, seven runs, nine strikeouts, four home runs, one walk. Yes, there’s some dominance in there (nine strikeouts), but also a bunch of poorly located fastballs/meatballs (four homers).

With that Hekyll-and-Jyde performance, Pineda became the first Yankee pitcher in the last 100 seasons to allow four-or-more home runs and strike out at least nine batters in a game. In the past 20 years, the only other Yankees to give up 10-plus hits and have nine-plus Ks in an outing of fewer than six innings pitched were Roger Clemens (2003) and David Cone (1998).

Overall, the Rays got 12 hits and struck out 16 times. Never before in franchise history had Yankees pitchers given up that many hits and recorded that many strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. etched his name in the Yankee record books with a rare and nearly unprecedented display of power on his 27th birthday. He is just third player ever with a multi-homer game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) on his birthday, along with Justin Morneau (2009) and Bernie Williams (2003).