2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

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

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

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

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.

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Game 85: Last Home Game Before The All-Star Break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s the last home game of the first half. The Yankees are 24-16 with a +34 run differential at Yankee Stadium this season and only 21-23 with a -16 run differential on the road. The offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders the last few games, but the Yankees are clearly a much better team in their home ballpark this season. That short porch sure is friendly.

Masahiro Tanaka is making his last start before the All-Star break today and it has been an uneven first half for him. There were times he looked absolutely dominant, times he got smacked around, and off course the month long DL stint. Tanaka’s second half is going to have to be better than his first half for the Yankees to stay in the postseason hunt, I reckon. Hopefully he can finish the first half on a high note today. Here’s the A’s lineup and here’s the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Cole Figueroa
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Not the greatest weather day for baseball. It was raining this morning and it’s supposed to rain again this afternoon, but not for another few hours. Shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes into extra innings or something. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy!

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (calf) had an MRI last night and it showed inflammation close to his knee. He feels much better but remains day-to-day … Brendan Ryan (back) will start a minor league rehab assignment today. It was supposed to start Friday but has been pushed up, I guess because the Yankees want to get Ryan back as soon as possible in case Headley’s injury lingers … If you missed it last night, CC Sabathia had his knee drained before the start of the homestand. Second time he’s had it drained since Spring Training.

Roster Move: So, based on the lineup, Figueroa is with the team now. Jose Pirela was sent down and Taylor Dugas was designated for assignment in corresponding moves, the Yankees announced. Figueroa, a left-handed batter, is having a great season with Triple-A Scranton (.317/.372/.415 and 130 wRC+ with 5.0 K% and 7.5 BB%) and he can play all over the infield. Makes more sense for the roster than Pirela with Headley banged up.

Game 71: Maybe Don’t Allow 10+ Runs Again?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees allowed 11 and 12 runs in their last two games, respectively, and not surprisingly both resulted in losses. In fact, they’ve allowed 11, 12, 12, 2, 9, and 11 runs in their last six losses, which is really bad. The last two losses came with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, which is even harder to swallow. Pineda got roughed up by literally the worst offense in baseball.

Tonight the Yankees turn to their former ace CC Sabathia to do something Pineda and Tanaka couldn’t the last two days — pitch a winnable game. They’re averaging over seven runs per game on the homestand. The offense is holding up its end of the bargain. The Phillies are really bad, worst offense in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.21), so everything is set up for Sabathia to have a good start. Now he just needs to actually do it. Here is Philadelphia’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

Really gross day in New York today. Hot and sticky, and there are thunderstorms in the forecast tonight. I’m not sure when they will start and stop — the rain was supposed to start this afternoon but that didn’t happen — so it’ll be a surprise. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot yesterday after an MRI showing nothing serious. He could return as soon as tomorrow … nothing new with Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), who is still taking batting practice and running the bases. No word on when he’ll take the next step in his rehab, which I assume involves some game action.

Roster Moves: Stephen Drew has been placed on the paternity list and Ramon Flores was sent to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. Bryan Mitchell was called back up — Drew going on the paternity list allowed the Yankees to bring him back before the ten days were up — as was Jose Pirela. The Yankees have a bunch of games against lefty starters coming up, so Pirela figures to play these next few days.

Start Time Update (6:51pm ET): The start of the game will be delayed, the Yankees announced. It is not raining right now but it is expected to start any minute. No word on a start time. “We will have one once the weather system moving thru the area works its way through,” said the team, according to Dan Barbarisi. First rain delay of the season!

Start Time Update (7:59pm ET): The Yankees say the game will begin at approximately 8:25pm ET. Baseball!

Yankees facing tough but welcome roster decisions this month

(Scranton Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times Tribune)

At some point very soon — likely next week — the Yankees will welcome Ivan Nova back to the rotation. He allowed one run in six innings in his second Triple-A rehab start over the weekend, but apparently he had issues with his command and wasn’t as sharp as he had been in previous rehab starts. Joe Girardi confirmed yesterday Nova will make one more minor league rehab start later this week.

“We just feel we want to make sure that he’s finished off,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “It’s not something that’s easy to make an adjustment if you say, we wish we would have had one more start, so we talked about it for a couple days and we just think it’s better that we know that he’s ready to go and ready to handle the rigors of throwing every fifth day and all that … We waited a long time and to give him one more start and to make sure that he’s ready is probably the best thing to do.”

Once Nova is deemed ready to rejoin the Yankees, the team will have to figure out a way to squeeze him back into the rotation, unless of course they decide to use a six-man rotation. Sunday’s subpar start by Adam Warren seems like the excuse the Yankees have been waiting for to plug him back into the bullpen after his recent run of strong starts. Girardi’s somewhat quick hook was telling.

Soon after Nova returns, Jacoby Ellsbury is expected back from his knee problem. Cashman told Erik Boland the team expects Ellsbury back before the All-Star break (which is less than a month away now) and that he could return later this month. Once he does return Ellsbury will slide right back into his usual center field/leadoff hitter slot and the rookie outfielder du jour (Mason Williams, currently) will be send down.

Last week the Yankees had to send Jose Pirela to Triple-A to make room for Brendan Ryan even though Pirela has gone 14-for-27 (.519) against lefties in his very brief MLB career. Jacob Lindgren was dropped in favor of Sergio Santos partly because the Yankees wanted another righty reliever and partly because Lindgren gave up three dingers in his seven innings. Ramon Flores was swapped out for Williams despite his solid showing.

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

In this recent stretch of games the Yankees have had to make some tough roster decisions and they have some more tough decisions on the way. Keeping Pirela, Flores, and Lindgren around would have easily been justifiable. Warren may move to the bullpen but chances are the Yankees wish they could keep him in the rotation to see what happens. His last six starts as a whole has been very impressive, even including Sunday.

The Yankees suddenly have depth and extra players who belong on the roster. Too many times in the last two seasons the club was left scrambling for players, whether it was shortstops like Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac in 2013 or pitchers like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Daley in 2014, there was always someone on the roster that needed to be replaced. Obviously injuries played a part in that, but the Yankees have had injuries this year too. This season’s crop of replacements has been much more productive.

Right now, Santos is probably the only guy on the roster the Yankees would drop in a heartbeat if a better option presents itself. If Ryan or another outfielder gets hurt, Pirela and Flores are capable replacements. Those internal replacements rarely existed from 2013-14 and Hal Steinbrenner made it clear he viewed that as a problem in the last two offseasons. I know we’re all looking for stars from the farm system, but getting capable fill-ins like Pirela and Flores is very important too. It prevents the Brignacs and Daleys from even being needed.

When the time comes to activate Nova and Ellsbury, the Yankees will have tough decisions to make and that’s a good thing. Having more quality players than roster spots is a plus. The lack of depth and general lack of production from the farm system helped sink the Yankees the last two seasons. Now they have multiple young outfielders and a young infielder waiting in Triple-A, and will probably move a capable starter in Warren to the bullpen to make room for Nova. Figuring out who has to go isn’t so easy anymore. That’s a good thing.

Yankees option Jose Pirela to Triple-A Scranton

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

Following this afternoon’s game, the Yankees optioned Jose Pirela to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. With Pirela going down and Andrew Miller being placed on the 15-day DL, the team has to make two call-ups before Friday’s series opener against the Orioles.

My guess is Ramon Flores will be brought back come Friday. Miller’s injury allows the Yankees to bring him back without waiting the usual ten days. In fact, that was probably the plan on along. They knew Miller was going on the DL, so Flores goes “down” for a game, Pirela plays against the lefty Gio Gonzalez, then Flores comes back Friday. Though I guess there was still a chance Miller could have avoided the DL by time Flores was sent down.

The other roster spot figures to be a pitcher. My guess is Chris Martin, who has been pitching for Triple-A Scranton the last few weeks after coming back from his elbow injury. He was up with the Yankees earlier this season and seems like an obvious candidate. The team has no shortage of candidates though: Jose Ramirez, Danny Burawa, Nick Rumbelow … any of them could all get the call.

Pirela, 25, is 11-for-43 (.256) in limited time this season. Brendan Ryan returned from the 60-day DL on Wednesday and will take over as the backup infielder.

Game 28: Chance To Win Another Series

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays have split the first two games of this series at Rogers Centre — the Yankees aren’t fans of the new turf, by the way — so tonight’s rubber game will determine the series winner. New York has won each of their last five series and they haven’t won six straight since the middle of the 2011 season, when they won seven straight. Would be nice to get over that hump, no?

Tonight’s pitching matchup would have been great about five years ago: CC Sabathia vs. Mark Buehrle. Now they’re both in the latter phases of their careers trying to figure out how to pitch with reduced stuff. (Yes, even Buehrle’s trying to learn how to pitch with lost velocity even though he had little to begin win.) The Yankees have historically owned Buehrle but I don’t really think that means much. This Yankees team is different than last year’s and the all the other ones before it. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s been a real nice day in Toronto, with a clear sky and temperatures in the 70s. I’m guessing the roof will be open tonight. First pitch for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner is out with a stiff neck, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He hurt himself on a head-first slide last night. Seems like it’s only a day-to-day thing, thankfully.

Roster Move: As you can tell from the lineup, Pirela (concussion) has been activated off the DL. Gregorio Petit was placed on the 15-day DL with a right hand contusion in a corresponding move, the Yankees announced. Petit took a pitch to the hand last night and the various reporters say it was pretty swollen today. Timing worked out well.

Game 27: Big Mike and the Blue Jays

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees dropped a very winnable first game of this series with the Blue Jays last night, and it was one of those losses you could pin on anyone other than Chase Whitley. That’s baseball. You’re not gonna win them all.

Big Mike Pineda is on the mound tonight looking to get the Yankees back into the win column. They’ve won 13 of their last 17 but the bullpen could really use the night off. At least Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller could. This would be a good night for a blowout win. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Chase Headley
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s cool and cloudy in Toronto this evening. I’m guessing the Rogers Centre roof will be closed, but that’s just a guess. Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:07pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Update: Jose Pirela (concussion) is with the Yankees and will be activated off the DL tomorrow. No word on the corresponding move but I assume it’ll be Petit. Makes sense.

Injury Update: Mark Teixeira is dealing with a minor lat issue, Joe Girardi told reporters. That’s why he didn’t use him as a defensive replacement last night; he wanted him to have the full day off. It’s a nagging issue but Teixeira is playing tonight.