Injury Updates: Swisher & Gardner

Via Bryan Hoch, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to miss a week after suffering a low-grade hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. Joe Girardi said they’re going to try to avoid placing him on the DL, which I honestly don’t understand. Minor hamstring strains can become major hamstring strains very easily, especially if they aren’t given the proper time to heal. Just sit him down for the 15 days and make sure he’s healthy without handicapping the roster.

In other news, Hoch reports that Brett Gardner again took his hacks in the cage today. He will take batting practice on the field tomorrow and is on track to be activated when his DL stint is up on Thursday. Until then, the Yankees appear content to use a 13-man pitching staff and a two-man bench.

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Update: Swisher has low-grade hammy strain

4:43pm: Swisher has a low-grade hamstring strain and will miss “more than a few days” according to Joe Girardi. He might not need a DL stint, however. Three healthy outfielders with Eduardo Nunez as the backup won’t cut it, the Yankees are going to have to abandon the 13-man pitching staff at some point.

3:19pm: The team says it’s a tight left hamstring and Swisher will head for a precautionary MRI. Hopefully it’s not a strain or anything and he won’t miss more than a few days.

2:13pm: Nick Swisher was lifted from this afternoon’s game with an apparent left hamstring injury. Replays showed him flexing his leg and grabbing at it following a swing then again on first base after drawing a walk. Andruw Jones replaced Swisher off the bench. Hopefully it’s just a cramp. We’ll update this post with more as it comes in.

Update: Nick Swisher leaves game with right groin tightness

8:38pm: The Yankees announced that Swisher left the game with tightness in his right groin. Last week it was his left groin that was bothering him. Swisher told Erik Boland that there are no tests plans and he will rest for “a couple of days.”

8:05pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after reaching base on an error in the third inning. This was a first game back after dealing with a groin issue, and he walked off the field gingerly. Justin Maxwell took his spot on base. We’ll update this post with more info once it’s available.

Injury Updates: Jeter, D-Rob, Martin, Swisher

The agony of da feet. (/crickets) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…

  • Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
  • Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
  • Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
  • Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
  • Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]

Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.

2012 Season Preview: All Day, Every Day

(Via Reuters Images)

When we talk about the core of a team, we can mean many things. From 2007 through 2010 the Yankees had the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. As the remaining relics from the late-90s dynasty, they led the team in spirit. We can also refer to the core producers on the team. Last year Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano were the core run producers. Still, there is one core area of a team that often gets overlooked.

With the grind of a 162-game season, teams need guys who take the field day after day. A few fragile players can fit into a team’s blueprint, but as those injury risks increase so does the need for durability. Part of a team’s core, then, centers on these guys who somehow remain healthy. After all, as friend of RAB Tommy Bennett likes to say, health is a skill.

While anyone can get injured at any time, these guys have proven their durability. That’s a big plus for any team, especially one that expects to contend from wire-to-wire. We’ll limit this to position players.

Mark Teixeira

Since debuting in 2003, Teixeira has played fewer than 145 games in just one season. That came in 2007, when he missed 27 games with a quadriceps strain. Prior to that he’d been on the DL just once. Since then he hasn’t spent a single day on the DL, unless you count his hamstring injury in Game Four of the 2010 ALCS. (Apparently Baseball Prospectus lists that as a zero-day DL stint.) In the last four seasons Teixeira has played in at least 156 games. He has become one of the game’s iron men.

Should Teixeira fall victim to injury, the Yankees do have some backup plans. Eric Chavez has been taking reps at first base this spring, as he did last year. There’s also Nick Swisher, who has played there occasionally as a Yankee. That would seemingly open up a hole in the outfield, but if Andruw Jones proves he’s viable in a regular role the Yankees could opt to use Swisher at first if a long-term need arises.

Nick Swisher

Swisher is the type of player that, as the cliche goes, bends but does not break. His injury history, per Baseball Prospectus, is actually quite long. Yet it consists mostly of day-to-day items that have kept him out one, two, maybe three days at a time. Just once in his career has he spent time on the disabled list, and that came all the way back in 2005 when he separated his shoulder running into an outfield fence. That caused him to miss 19 games. He wouldn’t miss 19 games combined in the next four years, and has missed only 30 games since returning from the DL.

In each of his three years with the Yankees Swisher has played in exactly 150 games. He has racked up at least 607 PA in those years, and has come to the plate 635 times in each of the last two. He’s lost 20 games to various injuries, including his knee and biceps, but he’s never been out of position for any significant stretch. With a greater focus on conditioning — Swisher was noticeably thinner in 2010 and 2011 than he was in 2009 — he could remain one of the Yankees’ most dependable players.

Robinson Cano

Remember back in 2006 when Cano missed 35 games — 43 days — with a hamstring injury he suffered running the bases? That felt like a long time for him to be out. The injury didn’t seem that severe, and the Yankees did downplay it to a degree. But he came back with a fury, hitting .365/.380/.635 to finish the season and contending with Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter for the batting title. Since then Cano has missed two games — two games! — due to injury. This includes the time in 2010 when Josh Beckett hit him right in the friggin’ knee with a pitch; he was back as the DH the very next game.

In the last five years Cano has averaged 159.8 games played per season. He’s dipped below 160 just twice: in 2008, because he got benched in September, and last year, when he got a couple of days off in the season’s final weeks. Considering his on-field production at a premium position, Cano’s durability has been a great boon to the Yankees.

Curtis Granderson

It might seem odd to count Granderson among the more durable Yankee players. He did, after all, suffer a groin injury early in his pinstriped tenure, and that sticks in our craws. But that was just Granderson’s second career trip to the DL. He opened the 2008 season on the DL with a broken finger, suffered as the result of a spring training hit by pitch. He also missed time last spring training with an oblique injury, but that cost him just 10 days. And, as we saw, it had little bearing on his regular season performance.

What’s odd about Granderson’s injury rap sheet is that it contains zero day-to-day injuries. It’s just the fractured finger, the groin injury suffered while running the bases, and the oblique injury. That’s uncommon, especially for someone who plays a physically demanding position.

Derek Jeter

If Jeter’s injury history is long, it’s only because he’s been in the league for 16 years. He’s had his minor dings and dents over the years, many times after being struck in the hand with a pitched baseball. But last year was the first time since 2003 that he hit the disabled list. Between those DL stints he missed just 42 games, which covers seven full seasons and parts of two others. In those seven years he never dipped below 150 games and has averaged just under 155 per season.

The Yankees, then, have a great advantage, in that five of the nine hitters in their lineup have proven their durability. What of the other four? As it turns out, with one exception, they’ve been durable in the past as well.

Brett Gardner

Gardner did miss time in 2009 after fracturing his thumb while sliding into second. He also underwent wrist surgery after the 2010 season. He’s had a few other nagging injuries here and there, but nothing serious. He might not seem durable, due to his size, but he’s managed to stay on the field for most of his time with the Yankees.

Russell Martin

Time was, Martin played almost every day. That’s usually a commendable trait, but since Martin squats behind the plate for nine innings that workload can take its toll. The injury problem started in 2010, when he hurt his hip while crossing home plate. Before that the worst he’d suffered was an abdominal strain in spring training — though it came the same year as his hip injury. He also underwent knee surgery that off-season, and then missed time last year with a sore lower back.

Still, Martin has remained on the field for an incredible portion of his career, especially for a catcher. Even last year he managed to miss the DL, sitting out just seven games with the back injury. He started 118 games behind the plate, which is good for a catcher. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him around 125 this year.

Raul Ibanez

Since 2004 Ibanez has been on the DL just twice. The first came in 2004, and the other came in 2009. The pair of injuries caused him to miss 52 games total. Other than that, he has a few day-to-day stints. They have added up to 20 games since 2004. That’s a pretty impressive track record. The biggest knock on Ibanez’s health right now is that he missed four games in 2011 with a groin injury, which is the same one he suffered in 2009. He also underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia after the 2009 season. But for the most part he’s stayed on the field.

That just leaves just two regulars. Andruw Jones has been mostly healthy since 2009, but he’s also played limited roles. It’s tough to say how he’d hold up given more playing time. Then again, prior to 2008 he had never hit the DL. There’s also Alex Rodriguez, who has been on the DL every year since 2008. It’s tough to expect him to remain healthy at this point in his career, but he is working with the same trainer that has kept Grant Hill on the basketball court for the last few seasons.

One of the Yankees’ biggest advantages on offense comes in the form of durability. Injuries can hamper a team’s production. It’s not just that they’re missing the one player’s production. The entire lineup changes, and suffers, when one of its main cogs goes on the DL. The Yankees, with the exception of Rodriguez, have been thankful to avoid that in the last few years. Again, injury can happen to anyone, but if the Yankees maintain their injury record, the offense will be all the more powerful.

2012 Season Preview: Regression Candidates

He smiled! (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Yesterday we took at look some Yankees who are candidates to see their performances take a step back in 2012, and now it’s time to flip the coin and look at some players with the potential to improve. That’s the neat thing about the term “regress,” it can work both ways even though it’s somehow developed this negative connotation. The Yankees had a few players under-perform last year, some with good reason and others just because.

Boone Logan
On the surface, Logan had some killer stats last season. He struck out 9.94 batters per nine (24.9 K%) while walking 2.81 per nine (7.0 BB%) with a decent 42.4 GB%. Of course lefty specialists usually aren’t judged by their overall numbers, they’re on the roster to get left-handed batters out. That was a problem for Logan last year, who allowed same-side hitters to tag him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 118 plate appearances. He gave up three times as many extra-base hits to lefties as David Robertson despite facing 24 fewer hitters.

Logan’s strikeout (11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and walk (2.30 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) rates against southpaws were insanely good, but his problem was the long ball. His 40.6 GB% resulted in a 13.3% HR/FB ratio, though Hit Tracker says that three of the four homers he surrendered to lefties were Just Enoughs. That means they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Two of the four homers would have remained in play in the other 29 parks according to their data. Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer given their definition, as they’re very prone to the weather and wind and ballpark. The homer issue may not be much of one, so if Boone can maintain those strikeout and walk rates, he should do just fine against left-handed batters going forward.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
We all know the story by now. Martin started last season ridiculously hot — .270/.367/.511 in his first 158 PA — before dragging himself across the finish line — .221/.303/.357 in his final 318 PA. The end result was a .237/.324/.408 batting line in 476 PA, or a .325 wOBA and a perfectly league average 100 wRC+. The average catcher produced a .309 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ last season, so Martin was an above average hitter relative to his position.

Like most players, Russ was a more productive hitter at Yankee Stadium (.345 wOBA and 114 wRC+) than on the road (.307 and 88). The easy answer is the short porch and more homers, but that’s not the case. Martin went deep eight times with a .175 ISO and a 15.4% HR/FB ratio at home last year, but clubbed ten homers with a .166 ISO and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio away from the Bronx. His walk and strikeout rates were essentially identical both home and away as was his batted ball profile, but his road batting average (.217 with a .220 BABIP) paled in comparison to his home rate (.260 and .288).

Martin is likely to see his home performance suffer a bit next year and his road performance improve a bit. In terms of process stats — the strikeouts, walks, batted ball types — he was the same hitter regardless of venue in 2011, he just got different results. Given the advantages of Yankee Stadium, the short porch and the fact that pretty much every hitter performs better at home, his home performance may not decline as much as his road performance improves. Martin will never be the guy he was in 2007 again, but a little more love on the road will boost his overall numbers and value to the team. Some more rest will only help further.

Nick Swisher
Swisher was basically the anti-Martin last year. He was dreadful to start the season — .206/.321/.288 in his first 193 PA — but a monster thereafter — .284/.397/.519 in his final 442 PA. Overall, Swisher finished with a .260/.374/.449 batting line (.358 wOBA and 122 wRC+), his worst performance as a Yankee and the second worst season full season of his career. His 23 homers were his fewest in five years thanks to the early-season slump.

Although he’ll never be a high-contact guy, Swisher has slightly improved his strikeout rate as his career has progressed while maintaining his high walk rate. He’ll never hit for a high average but that’s fine, he’s asked to provide power and patience. That power was missing early in the season, though his 14.3% HR/FB ratio in 2011 was right in line with his career average (14.9%). He just didn’t hit as many fly balls has he had in the past…

Green is GB, blue is FB, red is LD. (via FanGraphs)

Swisher’s performance against right-handed pitchers last year was by far his worst as a Yankee, going from .375+ wOBAs to just .335. Again, it had to do with the lack of fly balls, a 41.4 GB% compared to 35.9% from 2004-2010. He’s still relatively young (turned 31 in November) and healthy, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect the fly balls to return in 2012. It’s not like we’re asking an injury-prone guy in his late-30’s to perform miracles here. More fly balls will lead to more homers, hopefully getting Swish back around 28-30 and making him more dangerous against northpaws.

Alex Rodriguez
It’s easy to forget just how stellar A-Rod was before his knee started giving him problems. He carried a .301/.377/.509 batting line (in 318 PA) into July before getting hurt, which is still excellent even if it’s not on par with his lofty standards. Alex was never the same after that (.191/.345/.353 in his final 84 PA), and the story is the same heading into 2012. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I think everyone knows the deal. If healthy, A-Rod will produce big numbers even if they aren’t quite as big as they used to be. Whether or not he can actually stay on the field for 140 games or so is a total mystery, experimental knee procedures and new training methods be damned.

Rafael Soriano
Baseball’s highest paid setup man didn’t have a great first year in pinstripes, particularly early on. Most realized that his fly ball ways (just 35.2 GB% in 2011 and 31.4% career) were a bad fit for Yankee Stadium, so the big jump in homer rate (0.92 HR/9 and 8.3% HR/FB were nearly double his 2010 totals) wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was his walk rate, which jumped from 2.69 BB/9 and 7.5 BB% coming into the season to 4.12 and 10.0 in 2011, respectively.

Most of the walk damage came before Soriano hit the DL with an elbow problem. That makes sense, since elbow injuries have historically resulted in a loss of control while shoulder injuries have resulted in loss of velocity. Soriano walked 11 of 69 batters (15.9%) before hitting the DL but only seven of 95 batters (7.4%) after getting healthy. His strikeout (14.5 K% per-injury but 27.4 K% after) rate improved as well. Unfortunately, health is a going to remain a question going forward given his career-long battle with his elbow, but a healthy Soriano should be a very good reliever for the Yankees.

Nothing to complain about from the right side. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s performance problems are all self-inflicted. He readily admits that he’s changed his left-handed swing over the last three years in an effort to take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium, and says he’s working hard to correct the problem. He’s even talked about laying down bunts to beat the shift, which might be going a little too far. That’s another argument for another time.

With his massive power (.246 ISO and 17.1% HR/FB in 2011 vs. .250 ISO and 18.2% career), strong walk rate (11.1 BB% in 2011 vs. 11.5% career), relatively low strikeout rate (16.1 K% in 2011 vs. 17.2% career), and right-handed production (.410 wOBA vs. LHP in 2011 vs. .400 career) still intact, it’s all about Teixeira getting that batting average as a left-handed hitter (.224 in 2011) back up to his career norm (.277 coming into 2011). If he does that, his overall batting average (.248 in 2011) and OBP (.341) will also return to their previous levels (.286 and .377 coming into 2011, respectively).

Fixing the problem is much easier said than done. The uppercut Teixeira has added to his swing has resulted in a ton of fly balls (48.3% in each of the last two years) against righties, and fly balls will do a number on the ol’ BABIP (just .222 last year) since they’re generally easy to field. Eliminating the uppercut and returning to the level, all-fields approach that made him one of the game’s very best hitters will be tough because that’s a lot of muscle memory to undo. It won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. It will cost Teixeira some homers, but he’s a good enough hitter that he’ll be able to provide average, on-base skills, and 30+ homers at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one of the other.

2012 Season Preview: Contract Years

With Spring Training fully underway, it’s time to begin our season preview. We’re going to change things up a bit this year, focusing on various aspects of the team rather than individual players. You’ll see most players in multiple posts, but the concepts will all be different.

Don't go Mo. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The Yankees are known for their free-spending ways, and while that may be scaled back in the near future, the team still has plenty of roster and financial decisions to make. Eight players on the club’s projected 25-man Opening Day roster are scheduled to become free agents after the season, assuming the no-brainer 2013 options for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are exercised. No less than four of those eight impending free agents can be considered critical pieces of the roster.

Things have a way of changing over the course of a 162-game season (plus playoffs), but the Yankees are going to have some tough choices to make in about eight months. In some cases, the may not have a choice at all.

Freddy Garcia
The Yankees quickly re-signed Garcia to a one-year, $4M contract early this offseason, but now he’s an extra piece. It’s easy to say they jumped the gun and should have waited to re-sign him, but they got him on such ridiculously favorable terms compared to what similar pitchers — Bruce Chen (2/9), Chris Capuano (2/10), and Aaron Harang (2/12) — received this winter that the Yankees will have no trouble trading him later this summer if they decided to go that route. Pitching depth is never a bad thing, and even if the fifth starter competition is rigged, I’m sure we’ll see Sweaty Freddy make some starts this year. Right now, it seems all but certain that Garcia will move on to another team as a free agent next offseason.

Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez & Eric Chavez
Three spare parts on cheap one-year contracts, Ibanez ($1.1M) will be the left-handed half of the DH platoon while Chavez ($900k) backs up both corner infield spots. Jones ($2M) will get playing time against southpaws, either in the field or at DH. None of the three players are all that crucial to the team’s short- or long-term success, with Andruw representing the most indispensable part. That said, he’s on the short end of a platoon. Injuries have a way of forcing guys like these into larger roles than expected. Jones will be the priority re-sign after the season if all goes well, but the other two will have to wait like they did this winter.

Hiroki Kuroda
The 37-year-old Kuroda was non-committal about his future when he arrived at camp a few weeks ago, instead saying he’s ready “to give 100% and contribute to the Yankees as much as possible.” Hal Steinbrenner agreed to expand the budget to sign the veteran right-hander for $10M, a signing of tremendous importance that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves because of the Michael Pineda trade.

With youngsters Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes in the rotation, Kuroda and CC Sabathia will be counted on to provide stability and innings every five days. He’s being reunited with former Dodgers battery-mate Russell Martin, which will hopefully get his ground ball rate back into the 50% range after a one-year hiatus. There’s no secret regarding Kuroda’s status with the team; he’s a one-year stopgap brought in to solidify the rotation while the younger pitchers take their lumps. If he performs well and is willing to return in 2013, I’m sure the Yankees would welcome him. If not, then no big deal. Both parties will move on.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
The Yankees have already touched base with Martin’s camp about a three-year contract extension, but talks are now on hold until after the season. Yadier Molina’s hilariously huge contract (five years, $75M with an option and a no-trade clause) is a total game-changer, raising the salary bar for above average catchers in their prime years substantially. Martin will benefit, the Yankees will not if they choose to re-sign him.

While Austin Romine and Frankie Cervelli represent viable and payroll friendly alternatives, there is definite value in having a guy like Martin around for the next few seasons. He can ease the transition of the youngsters and provide some certainty at a position where so many teams have none at all. By no means is Martin a star, but he fits the Yankees well and there are several reasons for the team to re-sign him after the season. Molina’s contract will make that extraordinarily difficult, as the Rangers and Diamondbacks learned when impending free agents Mike Napoli and Miguel Montero abruptly ended extension talks this week.

Nick Swisher
Unlike Martin, the Yankees have not approached their right fielder about any kind of contract extension. Also unlike Martin, the Yankees don’t have an obvious, in-house replacement for Swisher. Things could change during the course of the summer, but as of today there’s no player in the system who you could point to as a viable corner outfielder for 2013.

Swisher has made it obvious that he loves playing for the Yankees, but he also said he won’t force the issue and is willing to test the free agent waters next winter. Concerns about a down walk year because of his playoff failures (and thus his “inability to handle pressure”) are misguided because Swisher was playing for a contract last season too. If he performed poorly, he was faced with the same fate as today: heading out onto the open market coming off a bad season on the wrong side of 30. The Yankees seem more content to play this one by ear, mostly because finding a replacement corner outfielder won’t be as difficult as say, finding a replacement catcher. That said, Swisher is a pretty important piece of the offense and losing his production would hurt.

Mariano Rivera
Based on his comments from a few weeks ago, the Yankees may not have a choice when it comes to retaining Rivera after the season. The greatest relief pitcher in the history of the universe hinted at retirement his first day at Spring Training, saying he’s made a decision about his future and won’t change his mind even if he saves a zillion games or if they offer him a zillion dollars. That seems like a weird thing to say if he was planning on giving it another go in 2013.

Mo is the only player in this post the Yankees would absolutely, no doubt about it retain after the season if given the chance. Other roster decisions would be based on him and around his new contract, which is something that applies to very few players in today’s game. The Yankees have plenty of potential replacements should Rivera hang ‘em up after 2012, but a pitching staff is a unique thing. They could carry Rivera and his potential replacements at the same time, unlike say Martin, Romine, and Cervelli. This is pretty much out of the Yankees’ hands. If Mo is willing to come back next year, they’ll bring him back. If not, well then we’ll see him in Cooperstown in six years.