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.

Yankeemetrics: When two out of three isn’t enough [June 24-26]

(AP)
(AP)

Chapman heating up
The Yankees continued their homestand with another win against their favorite punching bag (and the worst team in the AL), the Minnesota Twins. By taking five of their first seven matchups against the Twins this season, they’ve clinched their 15th straight non-losing season series versus them.

That’s the second-longest streak of its kind in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903 when the Twins were known as the Washington Senators. Amazingly, from 1934-64, the Yankees went 31 straight years without losing a season series to the Senators; the only year they didn’t end up with an outright advantage was in 1943, when the teams split their 22 matchups.

Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t sharp, but he was still good enough to give the Yankees a chance to win, allowing three runs in six innings. Despite struggles with his overall command, his splitter was in peak form. “Haven’t had that good of a split for a while,” Tanaka told Chad Jennings of Lohud.com after the game.

The Twins whiffed on nine of their 17 (53 percent) swings against the pitch, his second-highest whiff rate on the splitter this season. The pitch also netted him seven outs, including four strikeouts, and the lone hit allowed off the pitch was a single in the sixth inning. The key was his ability to keep the splitter down in the zone – he located the pitch an average of 1.74 feet below the center of the strike zone, his lowest mark of the season.

Masahiro Tanaka (1)
Aroldis Chapman had perhaps his most electric performance of the season so far, striking out the side in the ninth inning on 11 pitches. The first 10 were fastballs at 100-plus mph, increasing in speed on each successive pitch, with the final four going over 103 mph. And then he dropped a 90 mph changeup for a called strike three on Kurt Suzuki to end the game. Ridiculous.

Through Friday’s games, there had been 77 pitches of at least 103 mph thrown in the regular season since 2008 (the start of the Pitch F/X era). Seventy-five of them came from the arm of Chapman; the other two were thrown by Neftali Feliz and Henry Rodriguez, both in 2010.

Bronx bunters
The Twins are the gift that keeps on giving for the Yankees, who beat Minnesota for the fifth time in six matchups this season.

It was an unusual win from a statistical perspective: the Yankees had 10 hits in the game, but all were singles. The only other time over the last nine seasons that they won a game at home with double-digit hits and no extra-bases hits was on July 6, 2013 vs. the Orioles.

arod dork
(Getty)

Tied 1-1 heading into the eighth inning, the Yankees staged a most improbable rally, one that began with an infield single by Alex Rodriguez and was capped off by Aaron Hicks scoring the go-ahead run when Starlin Castro reached on an error by Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar. For Castro, it was his team-leading third go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later.

Castro might have been the hero, but it was Michael Pineda who stole the spotlight with his finest effort of the season. The right-hander surrendered one run on two hits while striking out eight batters with one walk in six innings.

It was his fifth start this season of at least eight strikeouts and one or fewer walks, the second-most in the AL behind Chris Sale (six). The rest of the Yankee pitchers this season combined for two such starts through Saturday.

Pineda struggled mightily during the first two months, and entered June with an MLB-worst 6.92 ERA, but has seemingly turned his season around since the beginning of the month. He now has 3.00 ERA with 37 strikeouts and five walks in his last five starts, and just 25 hits allowed in 30 innings.

His darting slider was a key weapon for him against the Twins, who went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with the pitch. It was the first time all season he didn’t allow a hit on his slider. He was able to bury the pitch in the dirt, inducing whiffs on half the swings against the pitch. It was the third time in five June starts he’s had a swing-and-miss rate of at least 50 percent with his slider, after doing so just three times in his first 10 starts.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Boooooooo-birds in the Bronx
With a chance to get to two games above .500 for the first time since April 12 and extend their win streak to four games, the Yankees instead flopped miserably, losing in near-historic fashion to the worst team in baseball.

The final tally for the Yankee pitching staff was eight hits, seven runs and six homers allowed. It was the most homers the Yankees have ever allowed in a game against the Twins/Senators franchise. The last time the Yankees surrendered a half-dozen longballs in a game against any team was Sept. 6, 2012 vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards and the last time it happened in the Bronx was May 7, 2009 against the Rays.

Each of the six homers was hit by a different player, making this just the second time that six guys have gone deep in a game against the Yankees. The only other team to do it was the Indians on April 18, 2009 (R.I.P. Chien-Ming Wang and Anthony Claggett).

Nathan Eovaldi had allowed just one run through five innings before he imploded in the sixth frame, giving up three consecutive two-out homers. He’s the first Yankee pitcher to allow back-to-back-to-back homers since Chase Wright coughed up four in a row against the Red Sox on April 22, 2007.

Sunday’s outing ended a nightmare June for the enigmatic righty. In five starts this month, Eovaldi posted a 8.65 ERA as opponents hit .338/.388/.696 with 10 homers against him. The 10 homers were the most allowed by a Yankee pitcher in any calendar month since Jack McDowell also gave up 10 in June of 1995.

As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Tyler Duffey took a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with a shiny pitching line of eight innings, two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. He’s the first pitcher to go at least eight innings and allow two or fewer baserunners against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium since Pedro Martinez’s epic 17-strikeout, 1-hitter on Sept. 10, 1999.

Yankeemetrics: Rocky Mtn. High and Low [June 21-22]

(USA TODAY Sports)
(USA TODAY Sports)

From Super-Nova to Black Hole
The Yankees returned to the Bronx for their final homestand before the All-Star break but gave their fans nothing to cheer about on Tuesday night against the Rockies. This was another sloppy performance with multiple baserunning blunders, two errors committed and poor clutch hitting (0-for-10 with runners in scoring position), resulting in an 8-4 loss.

Yankee pitchers flashed dominance with 13 strikeouts, but also were pounded by Colorado’s lineup, allowing 15 hits. It’s just the fourth time in the last 100 years that the Yankees have reached both of those thresholds in a nine-inning game; the most recent was a 12-8 loss to the Red Sox on Sept. 6, 2013.

The game couldn’t have started worse as Ivan Nova allowed a leadoff homer on the third pitch he threw to Charlie Blackmon. He’s now given up at least one homer in 12 straight starts dating back to last season, matching Phil Hughes (2012) for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The only longer one is a 14-start streak by Dennis Rasmussen in 1986.

Nova’s first couple weeks in the starting rotation looked promising, with a 1.65 ERA in his initial three turns. But he’s really struggled over the past month, posting a 6.88 ERA in his last six starts. The biggest culprit during this poor stretch has been an erratic sinker that’s not doing much sinking lately. Batters are slugging .606 against the pitch over his last six starts, compared to .324 in his first three starts.

Blackmon wasn’t the only Rockie who clobbered Nova; Carlos Gonzalez had a couple hits, including a bullet line-drive double to right field in the fifth inning that left his bat at 118 mph, per Statcast. That’s the fourth-highest exit velocity for any batted ball this season, and the highest mark given up by a Yankee pitcher in the last two seasons (since Statcast began recording exit velocity data).

(AP)
(AP)

A star is born
Welcome to the True Yankee® club, Mr. Castro. Starlin Castro saved the Yankees from another horrific loss on Wednesday afternoon, belting a no-doubt homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Yankees one of their wildest and most dramatic wins of the season.

It was a game that neither team seemingly wanted to win as both teams managed to blow four-run leads, with the Yankees delivering the final blow thanks to the clutch bat of Castro.

It was the 26-year-old infielder’s first career walk-off homer, as he became the fourth Yankee with a walk-off homer in Interleague play. The others are Russell Martin (2012 vs. Mets), Alex Rodriguez (2006 vs. Braves) and Jason Giambi (2005 vs. Pirates).

In the last 50 years, only one other Yankee second baseman has hit a walk-off shot: Robinson Cano did it on August 28, 2009 against the White Sox. Before that, you have to go all the way back to July 11, 1953 when Billy Martin beat the Senators with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 10th.

(AP)
(AP)

Chase Headley gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead when he crushed a 97 mph fastball dead-center into Monument Park in the second inning for his first grand slam in pinstripes (fourth in his career), and the first one by a Yankee this year.

The last time the Yankees went this deep into the season (by date) without a bases-loaded homer was 1991, when Matt Nokes hit the team’s only grand slam on September 23 against the Brewers.

CC Sabathia gave that lead right back to the Rockies with his worst performance of the year. He gave up a season-high six runs in 4 1/3 innings, matching the number of runs he allowed in his previous seven starts spanning 44 innings pitched.

Regression came swiftly for Sabathia, but it’s hardly surprising that he faltered against the Rockies. He now has a 6.08 ERA in eight career starts against them, his second-highest ERA versus any team in his career. The highest? A 6.16 ERA in nine starts versus the Yankees.

Despite the win, it is hard to ignore how historically inept the pitching staff was in their four games against the Rockies this year. The 8.74 ERA, .633 slugging percentage and 1.034 OPS allowed were each the highest marks by a Yankee team in a season series against any opponent over the last 100 years.

Let’s talk about Starlin Castro, the Yankees’ talented yet frustrating second baseman

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees are a little more than 40% of the way through the 2016 season, and so far things are not going according to plan. They need a serious run to get back into the postseason race and that run needs to happen soon. The season isn’t so young anymore, you know? It’s only going to get harder and harder to climb back into the race from here.

Starlin Castro is now a little more than 40% of the way through his first season in pinstripes, and based on what we’ve seen so far, I think the best way to describe his season is: meh. Certainly not great, but not truly abysmal either. Adequate is a good word. Or maybe participatory. He’s not the reason the Yankees are out of the postseason picture but he’s probably not someone who will carry them back into the race either. Here are some thoughts on Starlin’s first few weeks in New York.

1. He stopped hitting after the Astros series. Boy did Castro make a great first impression. He came out of the gate and went 7-for-12 (.583) with two doubles and two homers in the season-opening three-game series against the Astros. Starlin drove in eight runs in the three games. It was easy to dream on Castro being a guy who is energized by the bright lights of New York and carrying the offense going forward.

Instead, in the 66 team games since that Astros series, Castro has hit .234/.271/.365 (68 wRC+) in 259 plate appearances, which is not an insignificant sample. His overall season batting line sits at .250/.285/.406 (83 wRC+), which is awfully close to the .265/.296/.375 (80 wRC+) batting line he put up last season. Starlin definitely has had his moments …

… and yes, he has been better than Stephen Drew was last year (76 wRC+), but not by a ton. Overall, I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say Castro has been underwhelming offensively. He leaves you wanting more.

2. He’ll get himself out on pitches out of the zone. Castro has never been a guy who will work deep counts and drive the pitcher nuts. He’s up there to swing the bat. There’s a reason he has a career 4.9% walk rate, after all. This season Starlin has a career high 36.6% chase rate on pitches out of the zone (career 33.3%), which is the 20th highest among the 170 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

When there are runners in scoring position, Castro expands his zone even more. He has a 41.3% chase rate on pitches out of the zone with runners on second and/or third base. Every one of Starlin’s at-bats with ducks on the pond seems to look the same. Pitchers feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches down and away, and he goes fishing again and again and again. I don’t know about you, but Castro is not someone I want at the plate with the game on the line.

I’m not a believer in hitting with runners in scoring position being a skill. Hitting is a skill and good hitters overall tend to be good hitters with runners in scoring position. Castro’s the kind of guy who makes me rethink that stance. He goes into hack mode with men on base, even moreso than usual, and that’s pretty much the exact opposite of the approach you should have in those spots. The pitcher is the one in trouble, not the hitter. Be patient. Don’t help the guy on the mound out.

3. His defense is generally fine, but his double plays could use work. Even at this point, Castro is still relatively new to second base. He’s played only 105 games and 827.1 innings at the position in the big leagues, all since last August, so he doesn’t even have a full year at second yet. Because of that, we should cut him some slack in the field. He’s generally been fine. He’s not killing the Yankees in the field.

More than anything, Castro’s biggest issue at second seems to be turning the double play. Example:

Starlin Castro double play

We’ve seen similar plays — a weak throw to first and the runner beats out the double play — throughout the season. That one from Sunday was particularly egregious because it was so routine. Castro was at the bag for the toss and had plenty of time before the runner bore down on him. It’s not the first time this season that’s happened and it feels like it won’t be the last.

Like I said though, I do think Castro deserves some slack because he is new to the position. Turning double plays at second is totally different than turning them at short. At short the play is right in front of you and you can see the runner coming from first. At second, your back is to the runner, so you’re making the pivot blind. Turning double plays is definitely an area Castro can improve, and really, it seems like it could be as simple as getting him to put more on his throws. Just fire it to first, assume everything will be a bang-bang play.

4. Baserunning? More like baseoutmaking, amirite? The Yankees and their fans have already had the full Starlin Castro Baserunning Experience™. He’s been picked off third …

… and twice been thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, among other mistakes. A total of 729 players have run the bases this year and only 25 have made more outs on the bases than Castro. This is not a new issue either. Starlin was 19th in outs on the bases last year.

Some players make a lot of outs on the bases because they’re speedy and they push the envelope, and occasionally they get thrown out. That’s baseball. Castro isn’t one of those guys though. He’s made some bad baserunning mistakes, like that pickoff at third and the two times he was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, both of which came on a ball hit to left field, so the entire play was in front of him. Starlin has been doing this for years and years. I don’t expect it to stop.

5. His power seems to be blossoming. I know this turned into a “let’s dump on Starlin Castro” post but I don’t want that to be the case, so let’s end with a positive. Castro is hitting for more power than ever before. He’s already hit nine home runs, two fewer than last season in 307 fewer plate appearances. Starlin averaged 12 homers per season from 2011-15 and he should clear that easily this year. He has a chance to hit 20+ dingers in 2016 for sure. Remember, Wrigley Field is a pretty good place to hit. It’s not like this a guy going from a huge ballpark to Yankee Stadium.

Castro currently has a career high .156 ISO and he’s used pretty much the entire field too. Here’s the spray chart of his extra-base hits, via Baseball Savant:

Starlin Castro

Like most hitters, Castro does the most damage when he pulls the ball. He has hit three of his nine home runs to the opposite field though, and that’s a skill well suited for Yankee Stadium. Keep in mind Castro is still only 26, so he’s either in or about to enter would figures to be the prime years of his career. You’d expect his power output to uptick right about now, and it has this season. That is definitely promising.

* * *

A little less than three months into the season, it’s easy to see why Castro earned a reputation for being a talented yet frustrating player while with the Cubs. He has a knack for giving away at-bats by chasing out of the zone, and he’s had enough lapses in the field and on the bases to say they were more than a fluke one-time incident. Castro is still pretty young, but he also more than 4,000 plate appearances and 1,000 games in the bigs, and yet he’s still making the same mistakes he was years ago. Folks are still waiting for the adjustments.

Adam Warren has had a pretty crummy season to date — 4.56 ERA (5.39 FIP) with an 18/14 K/BB in 25.2 innings — which is surprising because he was pretty damn excellent for the Yankees the last three years. Does that soften the blow of Castro’s rough first few weeks in pinstripes? Eh, maybe. It doesn’t really matter to me. You can understand why the Cubs were ready to move on from Starlin and why a team devoid of young impact talent would take a chance on him, right? So far that chance is not really paying off for the Yankees. Starlin seems capable of so much more, and that has been the case for a few years now.

Batting average isn’t everything, but the lack of it is really hurting the Yankees

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

Last night, in the series opening loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer for the 21st time in 50 games this season. No AL team has more games with no more than two runs in 2016. The Yankees were also held to five hits or fewer for the 11th time in 50 games. That’s the third most in the league.

It’s no surprise then that the Yankees came into Tuesday with the second fewest runs scored (192) and the second lowest runs per game average (3.84) in the AL. Only the lowly Twins (187 and 3.74) are worse. The offense has been a big problem overall this season, and, not coincidentally, their team batting average (.233) is the lowest it’s been through 50 games since 1969, as noted by our Katie Sharp. Check out last night’s lineup:

Yankees batting averages

Three players in the starting lineup were hitting over .250 and five of the nine were hitting below .230. That’s almost the regular lineup too. Aaron Hicks was starting in place of Alex Rodriguez, and, sadly, Hicks’ .198 average is an upgrade over A-Rod‘s .170 average. Otherwise that’s the starting lineup. That’s pretty close to what Joe Girardi would send out there in a winner take all wildcard game tomorrow.

Obviously batting average is not the only — or best — way to evaluate offense. Walks and hitting for power matter too. Batting average is not nothing though. We’ve reached the point where batting average has become underrated. The best thing a hitter can do at the plate is not make an out, and hits are always better than walks. Always always always. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Walks should supplement hits, not replace them.

The Yankees as a team really stink at hitting for average. Look at that lineup and tell me how many players have a lower batting average than what you’d reasonably expect coming into the season. Brett Gardner? Sure. He’s not a true talent .217 hitter. He hit .259 last year and .265 in over 3,000 plate appearances since becoming a regular in 2010. Mark Teixeira doesn’t really hit for average anymore but .195 is low even for him.

That’s probably it, right? You could argue Starlin Castro is better than a .250 hitter, though he did hit .265 in over over 1,800 plate appearances from 2013-15, and a 15-point swing in either direction is still within the range of “that’s baseball.” I guess you could argue Chase Headley is better than a .229 hitter too, but eh. That might be pushing it even as good as he’s been in May (.284/.348/.425) and after hitting .259 last year.

Point is, that is close to the normal for the offense in terms of batting average. Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) are underperforming expectations that’s really it. Everyone else is pretty much where you’d expect them to be. Combine the lack of batting average with the lack of power — nine homers combined for Teixeira and Rodriguez through 50 games, woof — and you get, well, one of the worst offenses in the league.

It is harder right now to get a base hit than it has been at any point since the mound was lowered in 1969. I’m talking around the league, not just the Yankees. The MLB batting average is .252 right now. It was .262 when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A ten-point drop league-wide in seven years is huge! Go back ten years to 2006 and the league batting average was .269. There’s roughly 165,000 at-bats in MLB each season. The difference between a .269 average and a .252 average is over 2,800 hits. That’s crazy.

All sorts of things are contributing to the decline in offense and batting average. The infield shift is an obvious reason, but it’s not the only reason. More specialized relievers, the expanding strike zone, super detailed scouting reports, the increase in velocity — the MLB average fastball velocity is 92.3 mph this year, up from 90.9 mph in 2008, the first full year of PitchFX — all of that stuff has led to the decline in batting average.

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

Since the start of last season the Yankees have been, by far, the most shifted team in baseball. They’ve had 1,792 at-bats with the shift on since the start of last year. The Mariners are a distant second at 1,402 such at-bats. The shift has definitely played a role in the team’s inability to hit for average. Teixeira and Brian McCann are the most obvious victims, but shift-able switch-hitters like Headley and Carlos Beltran have been hurt too.

I’ve come to realize shifts are like strikeouts. You can have one guy in your lineup who will strike out 180+ times a year, maybe two if you really want to push it, but any more than that is a major problem. Same with the shift. One or maybe two shift-able hitters is fine. But five or six like the Yankees have at times? Nope. It doesn’t work. It’s too difficult to sustain rallies that way. We’ve seen too many rallies die on grounders hit to shallow right field the last few seasons.

The Yankees are — and have been for a few years now — one of the better contact teams in baseball, believe it or not. Their team 19.4% strikeout rate is sixth lowest in baseball. It was 19.1% from 2014-15, fifth lowest in baseball. There’s good contact and bad contact though, and the fact that they have the eight highest ground ball rate (47.7%) and 11th highest soft contact rate (19.8%) this year is bad news. Their MLB low .265 BABIP isn’t an accident. Weak grounders tend to go for outs, especially when you lack team speed like the Yankees.

There’s also this: the Yankees are old. Old hitters lose bat speed, which is why Beltran and Teixeira and A-Rod are no longer the hitters they once were. Even players in their early 30s like Gardner and Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury begin to slip. The team’s two under-30 regulars are Castro and Didi Gregorius, and let’s face it, they’re flawed hitters. They both tend to swing at everything. Aside from Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) getting out of their slumps, there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to post a higher batting average going forward.

The Yankees have focused on acquiring left-handed hitters who can take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and that intuitively makes sense. It doesn’t seem to have worked all that well, however. Going forward, in terms of overall team building, the best approach may be to focus on hitters with the skills to hit for average, then let any power boost from the ballpark come naturally.

Forget about hitting .300 for the second. Among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, the Yankees haven’t had a .285 hitter since Robinson Cano in 2013. The last regular other than Cano and Derek Jeter to hit .285+ for the Yankees was Nick Swisher in 2010 (.288). Batting average isn’t the only thing that matters. We know that. It also can’t be ignored either. The 2016 Yankees couldn’t make it any more obvious.

Yankeemetrics: A Ray of Hope [May 27-29]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Super Hiro
A couple veteran sluggers made sure that the Yankees wouldn’t waste another pitching gem in Friday night’s series opener at Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered in support of another brilliant performance by Masahiro Tanaka, leading the Bronx Bombers to a 4-1 win over the Rays.

Tanaka took a perfect game into the fifth inning, allowing just two hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings. He is now 3-0 in 10 starts this season, the first Yankee pitcher with a double-digit streak of unbeaten starts to begin a season since Orlando Hernandez in 2004.

Tanaka continued his dominance away from Yankee Stadium, delivering his third straight road outing of at least seven innings, one run or fewer and no more than five hits allowed. The last Yankee with a streak like that was Mike Mussina in August 2003. He lowered his road ERA to 1.34, the best in the American League through Friday’s games (min. 15 IP).

The 27-year-old right-hander was brilliant in finishing off hitters, as the Rays went 0-for-11 in two-strike counts with four strikeouts. Tampa Bay’s left-handed bats were also held in check by Tanaka, going 0-for-10 and hit just one ball out of the infield (a fly out by Corey Dickerson in the fifth inning).

A-Rod and Beltran supplied the offensive fireworks needed for the win, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates age 39 or older to homer in the same game, and the 21st pair overall to achieve that feat. The most recent guys to do it were Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs for the Blue Jays on June 23, 2007, and the first guys were Ty Cobb and Zack Wheat for the Philadelphia A’s on July 15, 1927.

The 6-foot-7 elephant in the room
Saturday’s game went pretty much as predicted given that Michael Pineda was listed as the starting pitcher for the Yankees. The big righty gave up a bunch of first-inning runs and was hit hard all afternoon, adding another ugly pitching line to his ledger, and the Yankees lost to the Rays.

(Getty  Images)
(Getty Images)

Pineda added three more runs and four hits to his league-leading totals in the first inning, which now stand at 16 runs and 26 hits. His 14.40 first-inning ERA would easily be the highest single-season mark by any Yankee that started more than five games.

It was also his fourth game with at least six earned runs allowed this season, the most by any pitcher in the majors through Saturday’s slate. The only other Yankee in the last 60 seasons to have four such games this early into the schedule (through 48 team games) was Terry Mulholland in 1994.

On a more positive note … Beltran reached another significant statistical milestone in this game, hitting his 12th homer of the season in the fourth inning for his 2,500th career hit. He’s the 99th player all-time and the 10th switch-hitter with that many hits, but also joined an even more exclusive club when looking at his rare combo of speed, power and on-base skills.

Just three other players in major-league history, along with Beltran, have compiled at least 2,500 hits, 400 homers, 300 stolen bases and 1,000 walks: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.

One is enough
One swing changed everything for the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. With Starlin Castro‘s two-run homer in the seventh inning, they avoided becoming a historical footnote in baseball history and instead added another rare win to their franchise record books. The go-ahead blast ended Jake Odorizzi’s no-hit bid in emphatic fashion and delivered one of the most unusual victories ever recorded by a Yankee team.

It was the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees won a game of nine or more innings while recording just one hit or fewer. The only other instance of this happening in a contest of any length was July 10, 1914 against the Indians, the second game of a doubleheader that lasted only six innings. The next day, on July 11, a 19-year-old named Babe Ruth made his major-league debut for the Boston Red Sox.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This was also the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees were held to one hit or fewer and scored more than one run in a game, regardless of the length or outcome.

Just three other times in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) have the Yankees played a game where their only hit was a home run: Sept. 10, 1999 vs. the Red Sox (Pedro’s 17-strikeout one-hitter); June 1, 1960 vs. the Orioles; Aug. 11, 1943 vs. the Browns.

Lost in the statistical madness was another fantastic outing by Nathan Eovaldi. He threw six innings of one-run ball, winning his fifth straight start and improving to 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his last seven starts. Nasty Nate now has a streak of back-to-back-to-back starts of at least six innings and no more than one run allowed for the first time in his career.

Game 30: Chapman Arrives

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this season, the Yankees have the three key components of their potentially historically great bullpen available. Aroldis Chapman‘s 30-game suspension is over — he only served 29 games due to a rainout — and he is on the roster today and ready to pitch. He’s the closer, says Joe Girardi. If the Yankees have a save situation in the ninth tonight, Chapman will get the call.

Of course, getting leads and save situations has been awfully tough for the Yankees this season. Just when it looks like they’re starting to come around, they go and get nearly shutout by a knuckleballer. Adding Chapman will be a big time help, assuming the rest of the roster does its job first. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

That weather has been okay in New York today. The sun was out earlier, but now it’s hiding behind a bunch of clouds. The good news is there is no rain in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Starlin Castro (oblique) is feeling better and is available off the bench. Girardi is giving him a day off as a precaution, basically … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) is not available, however. Doesn’t sound like he will be available tomorrow either.

Roster Updates: Johnny Barbato was optioned to Triple-A Scranton to clear a 25-man roster spot for Chapman, the team announced. I thought it would be Nick Goody, but nope. Branden Pinder (Tommy John surgery) was transferred over to the 60-day DL to clear 40-man roster space.

Schedule Update: The April 10th rainout against the Tigers has been rescheduled for Thursday, June 2nd, both teams announced. That means tonight is now the seventh game of a 40 games in 41 days stretch for the Yankees. Blargh. The Yankees will be in Toronto on June 1st and Baltimore on June 3rd, so at least the travel will be easy.