Yankeemetrics: Broom, broom! [Sept. 5-7]

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Tanaka’s milestone, Ellsbury’s surprising power
Backed by another solid outing from Ace Tanaka plus a couple key hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and Tyler Austin, the Yankees kept pace in the playoff chase with a critical 5-3 series-opening victory over the Blue Jays on Labor Day afternoon.

Jacoby Ellsbury, in an unlikely performance from the struggling center fielder, sparked the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning and an RBI single in the third. It was just the second time he went deep at home this year. Entering the week, his 190 at-bats at Yankee Stadium were nearly three times as many as any other player who had one or fewer homers at the ballpark (Austin Romine was next with 66 at-bats).

Tyler Austin also had a huge day at the plate, breaking out of a deep slump with a pair of doubles and two RBI. Only three other Yankee first baseman under the age of 25 have hit at least two doubles and drove in at least two runs in a game: Don Mattingly, Ron Blomberg and Lou Gehrig.

Masahiro Tanaka was hit hard early, but settled down and finished with a solid pitching line of two runs allowed on seven hits across six-plus innings. It was his 19th start this season giving up no more than two earned runs, which was tops among all American League pitchers through Monday’s games.

The Japanese star also earned his 12th win of the season, matching last year’s mark and one shy of his career-best in 2014. Yes, pitcher wins is a flawed stat, but its still a significant milestone for Tanaka. He is the fifth Yankee to win at least 12 games in each of his first three major-league seasons, along with Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte, Hank Borowy and Johnny Brocoa.

Adding in Tanaka’s impressive strikeout numbers puts him in even more exclusive company. Among all major-league players to debut since the end of World War II, only six others have reached at least 12 wins and 135 strikeouts in each of their first three seasons: Ricky Romero, CC Sabathia, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, Dennis Eckersley and Tom Seaver.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Birthday bombs and snow cone catches
Tuesday’s crazy win was a harrowing roller-coaster ride of emotions, filled with a ton of wild swings in win probability and a bevy of tense moments, resulting in yet another season-saving victory for the Yankees. Let’s recap the emotional victory in the only way that we know how, Yankeemetrics-style:

Tyler Austin delivered the first game-changing highlight, celebrating his 25th birthday with a monster two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 lead. The list of Yankee first baseman to hit a homer on their birthday is a fun one: Austin, Shelley Duncan, Don Mattingly and Lou Gehrig. Austin also became the first Yankee to homer on his 25th birthday since Tom Tresh in 1963.

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees are now 38-10 when a player homers on their birthday (since 1913) and have won their last 15 (!) such games. The last time they lost was May 29, 1992 when Charlie Hayes went deep in a 8-3 loss to the Brewers on his 27th birthday.

After the Blue Jays snatched the lead back in the top of the eighth, the Yankees quickly erased the deficit when Didi Gregorius smoked a triple to deep center, tying the game at 4-4. Before Didi, the last Yankee with a game-tying triple in the eighth inning or later at Yankee Stadium was Mariano Duncan in 1996.

Castro capped the rally with a sac fly to make it 5-4. It was the third go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee in the eighth inning or later this year, matching their total from the past three seasons (2013-15) combined. Castro is responsible for two of those three sac flies, and is the only player in the majors this season with multiple go-ahead sac flies in the eighth or later.

Finally, with the bases full and two outs in the ninth, Brett Gardner made an incredible leaping catch at the wall to seal the victory. With that ridiculous grab, Gardner increased his defensive Plus-Minus rating — a fielding stat devised by Bill James that estimates the number of plays the player made above/below the number that an average fielder would make, according to the video scouts — to +16, which ranked second among all left fielders this season (Adam Duvall, +22).

Aaron Judge kept the seventh inning comeback bid alive with a key single ahead of Austin; however, his monumental struggles to make contact continued as he struck out twice, extending his run of multiple-strikeout games to nine. That’s the longest such streak by any major-league player over the last 100 seasons.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Three times a charm
The long pinstripe nightmare is finally over as the Yankees completed their first three-game sweep of the season with a 2-0 shutout in the series finale. Before Wednesday’s momentum-building victory, they were 0-7 in the third game of a three-game set after taking games one and two. It was also their first sweep of a team with a winning record; their only other sweeps were four-gamers against the A’s and Angels.

Starlin Castro staked the Yankees to an early lead with a bullet line drive that just barely cleared the fences in left field. It was his 20th home run of the season, joining Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Joe Gordon as the only Yankee second basemen to hit 20-plus homers in a season.

Tyler Clippard sealed the win with a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his first save with the team this year. He is the eighth Yankee to record a save in 2016, matching the 1979 and 1980 clubs for the most players with a save on any Yankee pitching staff since the save rule became official in 1969.

Luis Severino continued his dominance out of the bullpen with three more brilliant shutout innings after replacing Bryan Mitchell in the sixth. Here are his video-game-like numbers as a reliever: 14 ? innings pitched, 51 batters faced, zero earned runs and two hits allowed. Yup, opponents are “hitting” .044 (2-of-45) against Severino The Reliever. That’s easily the lowest batting average allowed by any relief pitcher that’s faced a minimum of 15 batters this season.

Yankeemetrics: The Great Escape [Aug. 29-31]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Too little, too late
The Yankees fleeting playoff hopes hit a speed bump on Monday night as their late-inning comeback fell short in Kansas City, losing 8-5 to Royals.

Following another confounding outing by Michael Pineda and another middle-relief implosion, the Yankees found themselves down seven runs after the seventh inning, and despite battling back to twice getting the tying run at the plate, they couldn’t get the decisive hit.

After a four-run rally in the eighth pulled the Yankees within three runs, Mark Teixeira grounded out to end the inning with a man on first and second. That predictable #RISPFAIL dropped his batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs to .100 (4-for-40), the third-lowest among all players with at least 40 at-bats this season.

Starlin Castro also had a chance to be the hero in the ninth inning when came up with two outs and two men on. Kelvin Herrera threw him three straight curves; Castro took the first two for strikes then whiffed on the third one in the dirt for the final out. Castro’s line on curveballs this season fell to 6-for-52 (.115), the second-lowest batting average against the pitch in MLB (min. 50 at-bats).

In what has become an all-too-familiar tale for a Pineda start, the enigmatic right-hander showed flashes of dominance but ultimately the results in the box score were disappointing. He got rocked early, giving up three runs on five hits in the first inning, then retired 15 (!) straight batters in the second through sixth innings, before being removed in the seventh after giving up singles to the first two men he faced (who both eventually scored).

Pineda’s struggles in the opening frame are nothing new; after Monday’s disaster, he was tied for the most first-inning hits allowed and the second-most first-inning earned runs allowed, and his 7.62 first-inning ERA was the second-highest in the majors (min. 20 starts).

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Just call him Chasen Houdini
The Yankees pulled off one of their most stunning and nerve-wracking wins of the season on Tuesday, edging out the Royals, 5-4, for a ginormous victory against one of the teams they’re chasing in the wild card race.

They were celebrating at the end of the game thanks to a clutch hit in extra innings by the oft-maligned Jacoby Ellsbury, and a remarkable Houdini act to seal the win by improbable closer Chasen Shreve.

Ellsbury drove in the game-winning run in the 10th with a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit. He improved to 6-for-11 (.545) with 12 RBI with the bases loaded this season, tied with Mike Trout for the best batting average in MLB (min. 10 at-bats).

Shreve notched his first career save after escaping a bases-loaded, one out jam in the bottom of the 10th by fanning Kendrys Morales on three pitches and then getting Salvador Perez to fly out to center.

Over the last 25 seasons, the only other Yankee pitcher to strike out a guy with the bases loaded while protecting a lead in extras was — unsurprisingly — Mariano Rivera. The G.O.A.T got Mark Reynolds to swing through strike three for the final out of a 6-5, 10-inning win in Arizona on June 23, 2010.

Lost in the drama of the final frame was another solid outing by Masahiro Tanaka, who was removed following the rain delay after throwing five innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and no walks. He finished the month of August with a nearly flawless strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-to-1 (!), with the lone walk coming on Aug. 24 against the Mariners.

Tanaka is the first Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to complete a month with at least 35 strikeouts and no more than one walk. In fact, just three other major-league pitchers in that 104-season span have struck out 38 or more guys and walked one or fewer in a calendar month: Cliff Lee (54 K, 1 BB in Sept. 2013), Hisashi Iwakuma (39 K, 1 BB in July 2014) and Javier Vazquez (39 K, 0 BB in May 2005).

Trading an out for a win
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Wednesday as they enjoyed free baseball for a second straight night and again notched a huge win in extras. It marked the first time the Yankees have ever won back-to-back extra-inning games versus the Royals, and the first time they’ve done that versus any team since Sept. 21-22, 2012 against the A’s.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With the win, the Yankees are now 22-9 in games decided by one run, the second-best record in MLB behind the Rangers (30-8!) this year. Their .710 winning percentage in one-run games would be the highest single-season mark in franchise history; the current record is held by the 1963 team, which went 36-17 (.679).

This time they rallied from a four-run deficit and finally took the lead in the top of the 13th when Brian McCann delivered a sac fly to left field, scoring Didi Gregorius to make it 5-4. It was the latest go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee since Bernie Williams lofted a walk-off fly out in the 13th inning against the Red Sox on May 3, 1995.

McCann’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible performance by the bullpen. It was truly a team effort as six relievers combined for seven scoreless and hitless innings. This was the first time ever that the Yankees won a game where they used six different relievers who each got at least one out and allowed no hits.

How did we get this far into Yankeemetrics without mentioning Mr. Gary Sanchez? Let’s fix that. Despite going 1-for-5 on Wednesday, Sanchez still finished August with a .389 batting average and .832 slugging percentage in 24 games.

Over the past 100 years, two players in their age-23 seasons or younger have hit at least .375 and slugged over .825 in any calendar month (min. 100 plate appearances): Gary Sanchez and Joe DiMaggio in July 1937.

Yankeemetrics: The Not-Farewell Tour [Aug. 9-11]

(AP)
(AP)

Severino stumbles again
The Yankees opened their series at Fenway Park in familiar fashion — with a loss that dropped them back to .500 (56-56). This was the 17th time they’ve been exactly even in the win-loss ledger, which easily tops all MLB teams this season.

Another thing that has become commonplace for this Yankee club is mediocre starting pitching. Luis Severino returned to the rotation hoping to build on the promising work he’d done out of the bullpen the past few weeks, but instead reverted back to the same struggling pitcher he was at the beginning of season.

He was roughed up for five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings and fell to 0-7 with a 7.78 ERA as a starter this season. The last Yankee pitcher to lose his first seven decisions of the season as a starter was Doyle Alexander in 1982.

Even worse is the fact that the Yankees still haven’t won a game started by Severino in 2016. This is the first time in more 80 years that the Yankees have lost the first eight games started by any pitcher in a season. In 1934, they lost the first eight times that Russ Van Atta took the mound as a starting pitcher.

While the Yankees’ recent youth movement has been well-documented, the Red Sox also boast an enviable cavalry of young and exciting players. The latest call-up is 22-year-old Andrew Benintendi, who had a tremendous night at the plate, going 3-for-3 with an RBI double and two runs scored.

The former Arkansas Razorback star is the answer to our latest #FunFact, becoming the youngest Red Sox outfielder with at least three hits against Yankees at Fenway Park since Ted Williams in 1940.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

A Yankee legend is born
The Yankees bounced back from Tuesday’s loss with an impressive and uplifting win on Wednesday night, as they stormed back from a 4-1 deficit with eight unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings en route a stunning 9-4 victory.

The outlook for a win was grim early on when starter Nathan Eovaldi was removed after pitching one inning due to elbow discomfort. Joe Girardi was then forced to churn through seven relievers to finish off the contest. The eight pitchers used was the most ever by a Yankee team in a nine-inning game before Sept. 1 (when rosters expand).

Starlin Castro capped off the Yankees’ furious seventh inning rally with a tie-breaking, bases-loaded, two-run double for a 6-4 lead. That hit upped Castro’s batting average with the bases full to .467 (7-for-15) this season, the highest mark among players with more than 10 at-bats in that situation through Wednesday’s games.

Castro wore the hero’s cape but it was Gary Sanchez who grabbed the headlines with his spectacular 4-for-5 performance at the plate.

The 23-year-old Sanchez is the youngest Yankee with a four-hit game against the Red Sox since Derek Jeter on July 2, 1996 (in the Bronx), and the youngest Yankee to have four hits in a game at Fenway Park since Don Mattingly on June 12, 1984.

But not only did Sanchez have four hits, he also crushed his first major-league home run, a mammoth shot to center field in the eighth inning. That made him the first Yankee age 23 or younger with at least four hits and a home run in a game against the Red Sox since Mickey Mantle on May 22, 1954.

A-Rod says goodbye to Fenway
For the second night in a row, the Yankees seemed doomed for another loss before staging an improbable late-inning rally, this time winning by the final score of 4-2.

Down 2-1 in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, Jacoby Ellsbury drilled a line drive double to left field, scoring two runs. It was the first time in pinstripes that he’s delivered a go-ahead hit with the team trailing in the eighth inning or later, and is the only Yankee to do that this season.

The good version of Michael Pineda showed up in Boston as he scattered eight hits across six innings, allowing just two runs against a potent Red Sox offense. This was his 10th start versus the Red Sox as a Yankee, and the eighth time he’s given up no more than two runs. Since his first season in pinstripes in 2014, that’s the most such starts among all major-league pitchers and twice as many as any other Yankee in that span.

(AP)
(AP)

A-Rod’s final cuts in Yankee road grays were hardly memorable (except for the loud booing) as he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. If this is the end for A-Rod, he’ll finish his career with 59 career homers against the Red Sox, the sixth-most all-time and the most among players in the Divisional Era (since 1969). The only men ahead of him are Babe Ruth (90), Lou Gehrig (70), Mickey Mantle (69), Al Kaline (62) and Harmon Killebrew (61).

The other Rodriguez in this game, the Red Sox starter Eduardo, stifled the Yankee bats as he held them to a single run on three hits in seven innings pitched. He’s made a habit of dominating the Bronx Bombers: he hasn’t surrendered more than two runs in any of his six career starts against them.

Rodriguez is the first Red Sox pitcher in the last 100 years to have six straight starts versus the Yankees with two or fewer runs allowed in each game. The last pitcher on any team to begin his career with a streak like that against the Yankees was Dave Davenport for the St. Louis Browns in 1916.

Sherman: Yankees made Ellsbury and Headley available at the trade deadline

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees made both Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley available prior to the trade deadline, reports Joel Sherman. Obviously no teams bit; Ellsbury and Headley are still Yankees. It isn’t much of a surprise the Yankees put those two on the market considering they sold at the deadline. I’m sure they made all their veterans available.

Ellsbury, 33 next month, is hitting .274/.335/.374 (92 wRC+) in the third year of his seven-year, $153M contract. The 32-year-old Headley owns a .251/.325/.379 (90 wRC+) batting line following a miserable April. He’s in the second year of his four-year, $52M contract. Will either be a key contributor to the next great Yankees team? That’s up for debate but I lean no. Here are some more thoughts on this.

1. Expect the Yankees to continue to try to move both. The Yankees did sell at the trade deadline and it wouldn’t make sense to stop with those trades. Ellsbury and Headley don’t have nearly as much value as Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Aroldis Chapman, so they’re not going to bring a big return. Getting rid of them is as much about clearing payroll and a roster spot — especially in Ellsbury’s case given the team’s outfield depth — as it is adding pieces via trade.

The upcoming free agent market is pretty weak and I expect that to lead to a ton of trades over the winter. The pitching market especially, but also position players. The Yankees are making a concerted effort to get younger and dealing Ellsbury and/or Headley helps that cause. Replacing Ellsbury internally would be a piece of cake given all those outfielders with Triple-A Scranton. I expect the Yankees to continue pushing both guys in trades this month and in the offseason.

2. Ellsbury isn’t untradeable. There is no such thing as an untradeable contract these days. Vernon Wells was traded twice. Matt Kemp and Hector Olivera were just traded for each other. Josh Hamilton was traded last year. Ellsbury is not a terrible player. He’s just really overpaid relative to what he provides on the field. If guys like Wells and Kemp and Hamilton can be traded, so can Ellsbury.

Now, will the Yankees like the terms of an Ellsbury trade? Probably not. Chances are they’ll have to eat a bunch of money to facilitate a trade, or at least take another bad contract in return, a la Kemp and Olivera. It could work! A bad contract for bad contract trade that nets the Yankees a pitcher (Scott Kazmir?) while opening an outfield spot for one of the kids is worth pursuing. Ellsbury’s not untradeable. He’s just going to be really hard to trade.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

3. There figures to be a market for Headley over the winter. For all the talk about the golden age of young shortstops, there are a lot of really good third basemen in MLB these days. A few years back that wasn’t the case. There was a definite shortage at the hot corner. All those quality third basemen will make dealing Headley tough, but like Ellsbury, it’s not impossible.

Looking ahead to the offseason, the Dodgers (Justin Turner) and Marlins (Martin Prado) are set to lose their third basemen to free agency. The Giants just traded Matt Duffy and need to figure out what they’re doing at third base after this season. (Eduardo Nunez? Really?) The Angels could deal Yunel Escobar for prospects. Rebuilding clubs like the Braves and Brewers could have interest at the right price too. There will be a market for third base help in the offseason, which bodes well for the Yankees’ efforts to deal Headley.

4. The Yankees don’t have to trade Headley. Here’s the thing about Headley: the Yankees themselves need competency at third base going forward — you know as well as I that they’re going to try to win next season — and they don’t have an in-house third base replacement the way they do in the outfield. It’s clear the team doesn’t want to play Rob Refsnyder over there, leaving Ronald Torreyes as Plan B.

Now, this should not stand in the way of a Headley trade if one presents itself. The Yankees could always sign or trade for a replacement third baseman. This just gives them a little more leverage in trade talks, similar to Miller. Like it or not, they don’t have to trade this guy. Keeping him is perfectly fine given their internal options. Headley’s not someone who should be dumped for the sake of dumping a player, know what I mean?

Yankeemetrics: Many questions, no answers [July 18-21]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

The winning formula
Inconsistency has been the theme of this year’s Yankees team, but they have been remarkably consistent in one thing: their winning formula. Combine solid starting pitching with justenough offense to get a slim lead thru six innings, and then unleash their high-powered, flame-throwing bullpen trio to seal the victory.

The plan worked to perfection on Monday night as the Yankees opened their series against the AL East-leading Orioles with a 2-1 win.

Alex Rodriguez sparked the lineup with a towering home run to left field in the second inning. It was just his second homer at Yankee Stadium this season. A-Rod entered the game with a .226 slugging percentage in home games, the second-worst in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances.

The blast was his 69th against the Orioles, breaking a tie with Harmon Killebrew for the fifth-most hit against the franchise. The four guys ahead of him are Babe Ruth (96), Lou Gehrig (92), Jimmie Foxx (87) and Ted Williams (80).

And one more milestone for A-Rod: that homer was also his 1,578th hit in a Yankee uniform, passing Wally Pipp for 17th place on the franchise all-time hits list.

Aroldis Chapman’s blazing fastball was in peak form as he closed out the game for his 19th save. Per Statcast, his 1-2 pitch to J.J. Hardy reached 105.1 mph, matching the fastest pitch ever recorded by Statcast dating back to 2008. Chapman also threw a pitch that went that fast on Sept. 24, 2010 to Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Chapman hit 104 mph on three other pitches in the inning, and Ryan Flaherty actually put one of those heaters in play … barely. Chapman’s 0-2 fastball to him was clocked at 104.9 mph and broke his bat, resulting in an easy grounder for the final out of the game. That was the fastest pitch put in play by a batter in the Statcast era (since 2008).

(Getty)
(Getty)

#TeamBuy
A funny thing happened on the way to the Trade Deadline … the Yankees decided to build some momentum and hold off the cries to SELL!!! for another day as they routed the Orioles, 7-1.

Starlin Castro has hardly been a consistent run producer during his debut campaign in pinstripes, but he’s definitely come up huge at times this season. His two-run blast in the second inning gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in this must-win game.

It was his 11th homer of the season (matching his total from last year) and his sixth that gave the Yankees a lead. That’s the most go-ahead homers of any Yankee this season.

Jacoby Ellsbury made sure the fans in the Bronx would witness history on Tuesday night when he reached base via catcher’s interference for the ninth time this season, breaking the major-league record set by Roberto Kelly in 1992. The number becomes even more ridiculous when you consider that every other player in the American League has combined for six catcher’s interferences this season.

Huge Mike
The Yankees continued their desperate push toward contender status with another victory and another dominant performance from their pitching staff on Wednesday night. It was their fourth straight win overall and the fourth game in a row they allowed no more than one run and no more than five hits.

This is the first time since 1932 that the Yankees have put together a four-game win streak at home, giving up one run or fewer and five hits or fewer in each game.

pineda
(Getty)

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead thanks a leadoff triple by Brett Gardner and a Carlos Beltran sac fly in the bottom of the first. That snapped a franchise-record 23-game scoreless streak in the first inning dating back nearly a month. Remember, this is a team that last year led the majors with 125 runs scored in the first frame.

Carlos Beltran capped off the scoring, too, with a solo homer in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead. It was his 20th homer, making him just the second switch hitter to hit 20 home runs in his age-39 season or older. Eddie Murray reached that milestone in both 1995 and 1996, at age 39 and 40.

Michael Pineda spun a gem as he pitched six scoreless innings for his first win since June 7. He featured a nasty, sharp slider that baffled the Orioles lineup, netting him a whopping 18 whiffs and six of his eight punch outs. The 18 swings-and-misses are the most that any pitcher has gotten with a slider in any game this season, one more than Clayton Kershaw had against the Blue Jays on May 7.

Back to losing
The Yankees had their confidence-boosting four-game win streak snapped on Thursday afternoon, failing to complete the sweep thanks to a listless 4-1 loss. Their all-too-familiar anemic offense mustered just one run on five hits, the 20th time in 95 games that they’ve been held to no more than a single run. The only other AL team with 20 games of zero or one run scored this season is the last-place Tampa Bay Rays.

CC Sabathia had little to celebrate on his 36th birthday as his downward spiral deepened with another discouraging outing (four runs, seven hits, 6 2/3 innings). He’s now given up at least seven hits and four runs in each of his last six starts, the first time in his career he put together a six-game streak with that many hits and runs allowed in each game.

Coincidental or not, the large lefty has historically struggled on his birthday as a major-leaguer. He’s now 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on July 21 and his team has lost all five games.

2016 Midseason Review: The Outfielders

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers and infielders. Now it’s time to cover the outfielders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have been making an effort to get younger over the last 20 months or so, but the one place they’ve been unable to do so is the outfield. They’re locked into three veterans making good to great money, and despite their efforts to move one of them over the winter, the Yankees didn’t get an offer they liked.

Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran returned as the starting outfield this season, and all three have been among the most productive players on the team. In fact, along with Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann, I’d said they were three of the Yankees’ five most productive players in the first half. Let’s review their seasons.

Carlos Beltran: Still Great After All These Years

Last April, Beltran looked done. Like done done. He was 38 and coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and he was caught so far between fastballs and offspeed stuff that it seemed like he was guessing at the plate. It was ugly. But, once the calendar flipped to May, Beltran raked the rest of the way, and it’s carried over into this season.

Beltran was, by no small margin, the team’s best hitter in the first half. He’s hitting .299/.338/.550 (132 wRC+) with 19 homers in 320 plate appearances, and he leads the Yankees in … drum roll, please … AVG, SLG, ISO, OPS, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+, doubles, homers, and RBI. Pretty much everything except OBP. (He’s fourth in OBP.) Carlos is 17th among the 167 qualified hitters in SLG and 21st in ISO, and he’s 19th among all players in homers. He hasn’t hit for this kind of power since he was in the prime of his career with the Mets.


Source: FanGraphsCarlos Beltran

The signs of aging are there. Beltran walks less (5.3%) and strikes out more (18.4%) than he did during his prime, and good fastballs have given him a hard time, but otherwise he’s still a very smart hitter with power who seems to have a knack for understanding how he’s being pitched. He’s even hitting lefties better than he has in years, putting up a 167 wRC+ against southpaws in 2016 after having a 75 wRC+ against them from 2014-15.

Beltran’s offense has been better than I think anyone could have reasonably expected. Even as good as he was from May through the end of the season last year, it wasn’t crazy to think the 39-year-old would slip some this year. That’s baseball. Instead, Beltran has been a monster at the dish and he has been since Opening Day, really. He hasn’t had any sort of extended slump this year. Most players will hit the skids for two or three weeks at some point. Not Carlos.

As you know, offense is pretty much the only Beltran provides these days. He doesn’t run well and he’s a terrible defender in right field. The Yankees have been able to give him more time at DH this year, first because Alex Rodriguez got hurt, and then because they’re flat out benching A-Rod. Beltran seems to be running better this year than the last two years, and call me a cynic, but I can’t help but that think that’s tied to his upcoming free agency. He’s playing for a contract and might be in a little better shape this year. Either well, Beltran has been the team MVP so far.

Second Half Outlook: One of three things will happen: One, the Yankees remain in the postseason hunt and they keep Beltran for a second half push. Two, the Yankees fall out of the race and trade Beltran to a contender at the deadline. Three, the Yankees don’t contend and don’t trade Beltran. Clearly, the third option would be the worst. I’d like to see the Yankees contend, but the team isn’t cooperating, which makes a trade the best outcome. Carlos definitely played his way into some nice trade value in the first half.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Separating The Player From The Contract

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

It’s impossible to look at Ellsbury and assess his play without thinking about his contract. He’s a good player making great player money, and so far this season Ellsbury has been exactly that: a good player. He owns a .279/.347/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with four homers and 16 steals, and he’s stayed mostly healthy too. That’s always a question, unfortunately.

Ellsbury actually started this season rather slowly, hitting .235/.278/.341 (62 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in eight attempts in April. He’s since hit .297/.373/.421 (115 wRC+) with three homers and eleven steals in 15 chances. Ellsbury has also walked (9.9%) nearly as often as he’s struck out (10.7%). We haven’t seen the disruptive baserunning this year, which could be a product of age — 32-year-olds usually don’t run much — or a minor hip injury he dealt with earlier this season.

Defensively, Ellsbury has settled in after a weirdly poor start to the season. His days as a Gold Glover are over and really, at some point during the life of his contract he’ll have to shift to left field. Not too many 33+ year olds are running around playing center at a high level these days. Ellsbury’s range is still good and his arm … well sometimes his throws reach the cutoff man on one hop. Let’s leave it at that.

Relative to his contract, Ellsbury is performing well-below expectations and he’s not likely to get better as he approaches his mid-30s. Relative to other center fielders, Ellsbury is a solid player who is worth a roster spot on a contending team. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can raise hell with his bat and his legs. He’s just not someone you want to pay $20M+ a year. What’s done is done though. Ellsbury has shaken off that slow start and is one of the more productive players on the team.

Second Half Outlook: Last season Ellsbury started well, then crashed horribly after returning from a knee injury. He’s healthy now and the outlook going forward is much more promising. Ellsbury is a good all-around player, and now that he’s hitting second rather than leading off, he figures to get some more opportunities to do damage with men on base. For the Yankees to have any chance at the postseason, Ellsbury is probably going to have to play at an All-Star level in the second half. He’s vital to their success.

Brett Gardner: Same Ol’ Brett, Just Without The Power

Brett Gardner is one boring baseball player. He’s hitting .257 with a .353 OBP this season. Last year he hit .256 with a .343 OBP. His career averages? A .263 AVG and a .346 OBP. Boring! Outliers are much more fun. Gardner is reliably productive each and every year even though a large segment of the fan base seems to think otherwise.

The difference between 2016 Gardner and pre-2016 Gardner is his power, which was never his calling card anyway, but still. Look:


Source: FanGraphsBrett Gardner

Gardner hit his power peak at ages 29-31 thanks in part to former hitting coach Kevin Long, who got him to be a little more aggressive and hunt fastballs early in the count. Gardner’s power peak was basically a league average ISO, but this year he’s well below that with a .098 ISO. He’s hit five homers this year, his fewest in the first half since 2011, when he hit four. (Not counting his injury shortened 2012 season.)

Gardner’s power outage is tied directly to his ground ball percentage. He’s put a career-high 55.2% of his batted balls on the ground this year, up from 45.3% last year and 41.7% the year before. Furthermore, when he pulls the ball, Gardner is putting it on the ground 69.9% of the time. Two years ago it was 49.7%. That’s no way for a left-handed hitter to take advantage of Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch.

Offensively, Gardner is doing just about everything he usually does except hit the ball out of the park. He’s hitting in the .255-.260 range, he’s drawing a ton of walks (11.6%), and he’s going to end up with 20+ steals again. The over-the-fence power isn’t there like it has been the last few years though. Don’t get me wrong, no one was expecting Gardner to swat 20+ dingers this year, but he might not even get to ten this season.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

On top of the offense is Gardner’s defense, which remains comfortably above-average and actually seems better this year than it was the last two years. Maybe it’s just me. The various stats like UZR and DRS agree, but eh. Let’s not rely on half-seasons of defensive stats. Between the solid defense and team-leading OBP, Gardner is once again one of the most productive players on the Yankees. His power has gone missing, and the Yankees have compensated by putting him in the leadoff spot, where the lack of pop is less of an issue.

Second Half Outlook: Gardner has a recent history of fading in the second half, but as long as he’s healthy, I expect him to be rock solid. I suppose the Yankees could look to trade him as part of a deadline sell-off, though they figure to push Beltran a little harder in trade talks given his status as an impending free agent. As with Ellsbury, the Yankees will need Gardner to produce at a high level to make a run at a postseason spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Teixeira’s Knee A Break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

Drop Castro In The Lineup

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

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

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

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

Give Gardner & Ellsbury More Rest

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

* * *

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