Archive for What Went Right
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the only Yankees rookie to make an overall positive impression.
This past season was a very important one for right-hander Adam Warren. Coming into 2013, he was a 25-year-old who had put together back-to-back good but not great seasons with Triple-A Scranton and appeared destined for a third stint in Northeast Pennsylvania because of the numbers crunch. Instead, injuries to Phil Hughes and Clay Rapada opened roster spots and Warren made the team out of Spring Training.T
hanks to Hiroki Kuroda trying to snag a line drive with his bare hand, it took all of two games before the Yankees needed to use their long man this year. Kuroda exited the game early and in came Warren against the high-powered Red Sox, against whom he allowed just one run in 5.1 innings of work. Warren struck out four, walked one, and threw 86 total pitches after being fully stretched out as a starter in camp. It was an excellent follow-up to his ugly big league debut last summer.
As the long man, playing time was predictably sporadic. Warren made just three more appearances in April before becoming something of a regular in May, throwing 15.2 innings across six appearances. By the end of that month, the right-hander was sitting on a 2.10 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 25.2 innings of work. That included three appearances of at least three shutout innings and four appearances of at least three innings and no more than one run allowed. It’s a difficult role to excel in, yet Warren was doing it.
Appearances were again infrequent in June — he only pitched three times that month and was actually optioned to Triple-A at one point, but he never appeared in a game in the minors and was recalled four days later when Mark Teixeira went on the DL — but that month also featured Warren’s best outing of the season, when he chucked six innings of shutout relief against the Athletics in the marathon 18-inning loss on June 13th:
Warren struck out four, walked two, and allowed only four hits while throwing 85 pitches in the appearance. The Yankees went on to lose the game, but not because of their long man. He was nails.
In 43.2 innings prior to the All-Star break, Warren managed a 3.09 ERA and 3.83 FIP. His strikeout (7.21 K/9 and 19.1 K) and homerun (1.28 HR/9 and 12.8% HR/FB) rates were just okay, but he was limiting walks (2.47 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%) and getting ground balls (48.5%). By no means was he star or even a super important cog in the pinstriped machine, but Warren had established himself as a big leaguer. A young big leaguer at that, something the Yankees desperately needed.
The second half of the season didn’t go as well — 3.78 ERA and 4.97 FIP in 33.1 innings — particularly a five-game stretch after the All-Star break. Warren allowed seven runs on ten hits (three homers) and six walks in 9.1 innings across those five appearances, but thankfully it was just a minor hiccup. He recovered in mid-August and closed out the season well, allowing just seven runs in his final 24 innings (2.63 ERA). That includes five scoreless innings in a spot start in Game 160, after the Yankees had been eliminated.
All told, Warren pitched to a 3.39 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 77 innings across two spot starts and 32 long relief appearances in 2013. He made six appearances of at least four innings and in those games he surrendered only four runs total (1.27 ERA), three of which came in one outing. Joe Girardi even used him in some seventh inning setup situations as his bullpen got worn down and depleted by injury later in the season. It is worth nothing, however, that Warren’s platoon splits were pretty drastic:
Does that mean Warren should never face left-handed batters again? No, at least not yet. We’ve got a long way to go before we relegate him to righty specialist status. Getting lefties out is definitely something he will have to work on going forward though, especially if he’s going to continue being a multi-inning guy.
I think an important part of the season for Warren was that he stayed true to his starter roots and threw five different pitches in relief. According to PitchFX, he threw his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s sinker, mid-80s slider, and low-80s changeup all at least 18% of the time. He broke out his upper-70s curveball about 11% of time. Most guys stop using their third or fourth (or fifth) pitches and stick with their two best out of the bullpen, but not Warren. He mixed it up and as a result, he should come to Spring Training with an overall better feel for all of his pitches.
When he does come to camp next year, Warren is expected to compete for a rotation spot, pending the team’s moves this coming offseason. He showed he can turn over a lineup more than once as a long reliever this year and, if nothing else, he’s earned the opportunity to compete as a starter next year. Even if the competition is rigged in favor of someone else — the Yankees are known to do that from time to time, you know — Warren still deserves a nice long look during Grapefruit League play. New York didn’t have much success with young players or their farm system this year, but Warren was a definite bright spot. He could have easily stalled out by repeating Triple-A a third time, but instead he got an opportunity with the big league team and took advantage.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the best position player acquired by any team at the trade deadline.
Coming into the season, I think we all knew the Yankees were not going to hit for the same kind of power they have in the past. This was even before Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in Spring Training. You don’t replace Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez with Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Youkilis and not expect to hit fewer homeruns. Not realistically, anyway.
Once Granderson and Teixeira (and Youkilis) got hurt, the lack of power was alarming. At one point Yankees went nine straight games without a homer, their longest such streak since going ten straight in 1984. They went four straight home games without a dinger for the first time in new Yankee Stadium history and just the third time this century. The Yankees hit 18 homers in June and just ten (!) in July, the first time they hit 18 or fewer homers during a calender month since April 1989 (min. 20 games). They managed to do it in back-to-back months. Their 78th game of the season was their 31st homer-less game, matching 2012’s total. It was bad.
Aside from the lack of power in general, the biggest problem specifically was the complete lack of thump from the right side of the plate. From June 25th through July 28th, a span of 477 plate appearances, the Yankees did not get a single homer from a right-handed batter. Not one. Literally zero in 28 team games and more than a calendar month. That’s just unfathomable. Triple check the numbers kind of unbelievable. And yet, it’s true. The Yankees didn’t have the ability to close the gap or extend the lead quickly with one swing of the bat and it cost them games all summer long.
On July 26th, after about a week’s worth of rumors, team ownership pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cubs that brought Alfonso Soriano back to New York in exchange for minor leaguer right-hander Corey Black. Brian Cashman said he preferred to wait rather than trade a good but not great pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder, but ownership wanted Soriano and what ownership wants, ownership gets. The Cubs ate $17.7M of the $24.5M or so left on Soriano’s contract to facilitate the deal.
Just like that, the Yankees had a legitimate right-handed power source. Soriano whacked ten homers in his final 21 games with the Cubs and that carried right over into pinstripes. He went deep in his third game back with the team and 12 times in his first 32 games with New York. During a four-game rampage from August 13th through the 16th, Soriano went 13-for-18 (.722) with five homers and 18 runs driven in. That tied the all-time record for runs driven in during a four-game span in baseball history. Here’s where Soriano ranked in MLB following the trade (min. 200 plate appearances for the rate stats):
For the cost of a good minor league arm and $6.8M in salary obligation, the Yankees acquired a top 40 position player for the remainder of the regular season. Maybe top 30 or so depending on your opinion of fWAR and all that stuff. Despite not arriving until the trade deadline, Soriano finished second on the Yankees in homers (first among righties), third in runs driven in, and sixth in total bases (115). As an added bonus, New York finally had a player who could flip a bat, pimp a homer, and a put on a nice show:
Soriano was exactly what the Yankees needed: a legitimate middle of the order hitter who could hit the ball out of the park from the right side of the plate. His defense in left field was surprisingly solid as well, especially when ranging to his right towards the foul line. I thought he struggled a little bit on balls hit to his left and into the gap, but overall he was good defender. Certainly not below-average, which is what I had expected given his reputation with the Cubbies.
Unfortunately, Soriano’s heroics weren’t enough to get the Yankees into the postseason. He was the only player they acquired at the trade deadline, which meant many other holes (catcher, shortstop, rotation) were left unaddressed, and that led to the club falling short of a wild-card spot. Soriano did his part though. He was more than just the team’s best non-Robinson Cano hitter after the trade — he was one of the very best hitters in baseball and the team’s best trade deadline pickup since David Justice back in 2000.
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a shrewd bullpen pickup.
Over the last few years, the Yankees have shown a knack for plucking useful relievers off the scrap heap. Guys like Brian Bruney, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, Luis Ayala, Edwar Ramirez, and Cody Eppley have contributed to the team’s bullpen in recent years. They usually don’t stick around that long and their tenures tend to end uglily, but being able to consistently grab a guy off waivers or as a minor league free agent and squeeze 50 good innings out of him is a nice skill to have.
The Yankees landed this summer’s bargain bullpen pickup in a mid-February trade, on the very day pitchers and catchers officially reported for duty in Tampa. They shipped minor league outfielder Abe Almonte to the Mariners for right-hander Shawn Kelley, who Seattle had designated for assignment after signing Joe Saunders a week earlier. Given his resume — 3.52 ERA (4.12 FIP) with an 8.58 K/9 (22.6 K% and 2.74 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) in 128 career big league innings — it was unlikely the 29-year-old Kelley would have made it to the Yankees on waivers, hence the trade.
Now, believe it or not, New York actually had a surplus of relievers in camp. David Robertson and Boone Logan were returning, Mariano Rivera was back after his knee injury, and there were a bunch of people (myself included) who expected Joba Chamberlain to be a solid option for the middle innings as he got further away from elbow reconstruction. Both Rapada and Eppley were still around, as where David Phelps and Adam Warren. David Aardsma was with the team as well. Kelley looked like a guy who would be stashed in Triple-A Scranton — had a minor league option remaining — and await the inevitable call-up.
Instead, Kelley grabbed a bullpen spot and made the Opening Day roster because, as it tends to do, the pitching depth disappeared in a hurry. Rapada hurt his shoulder in camp and was eventually released, plus Phelps had to start the year in the rotation because Phil Hughes hurt his back and opened the year on the DL. That made Warren the long man by default. Kelley won the last bullpen spot over Aardsma because he was physically able to throw two innings at a time — Aardsma was a pure one-inning guy after missing what amounts to two full years following hip and Tommy John surgery. The Yankees wanted the flexibility.
Early in the season, it looked like the team kept the wrong guy. Kelley was a low-leverage reliever who had yet to gain Joe Girardi‘s trust, which is why only two of his eight April appearances came with the score separated by fewer than three runs. One of those two was in extra innings of a tie game, a last reliever standing kind of thing. Kelley was awful in the season’s first month, allowing nine runs on 12 hits (four homers!) and four walks in 10.1 innings (7.84 ERA and 6.34 FIP). Needless to say, he did not gain Girardi’s trust in April.
Thanks to a few strong outings in early-May and Joba’s oblique injury, Kelley slowly began to climb the bullpen pecking order. It helped that he suddenly started striking pretty much everyone out too. By relying on his sharp low-80s slider, Kelley allowed one run on three hits and a walk while striking out 18 of 28 batters faced (!) during a six-appearance, eight-inning stretch in the middle of May. Striking out 18 of 28 batters faced across however many appearances is off the charts good. Like, literally off the chart.
All of those strikeouts and a strong month of May landed Kelley regular seventh inning work — the setup man for the setup man, basically — even after Chamberlain returned from the DL. From May 1st through August 31st, a span of 105 team games, Kelley pitched to a 2.50 ERA (2.42 FIP) with 51 strikeouts (11.57 K/9 and 31.5 K%) while stranding 32 of 34 (!) inherited runners (94%) in 39.2 innings. That inherited runner strand rate is ridiculous. Kelley held batters to a .194/.278/.285 batting line during that stretch, more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team in 2013 (.193/.252/.286).
Like most of the pitching staff, Kelley fell apart in September (six runs in 3.1 innings), in part because of a bout with triceps inflammation. He is a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, so arm trouble wasn’t the most surprising thing in the world. The poor final month left Kelley with an ordinary 4.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 53.1 innings, numbers that sell short how effective and important he was for much of the summer. An ugly April and an ugly September mask four months of excellence.
Kelley ended the year with an 11.98 K/9 (31.3 K%) and 3.88 BB/9 (10.1 BB%), so plenty of whiffs but more walks than you’d like to see. Not a back-breaking amount though. He is homer prone — 1.35 HR/9 and 13.1% HR/FB this year, right in line with his career 1.34 HR/9 and 10.5% HR/FB — and that’s what keeps him from being a true eighth or ninth inning option going forward in my opinion. Kelley was a big part of Girardi’s bullpen for a big chunk of the summer and the Yankees got him on the cheap. Could ask for more from a guy who was cut from another team’s roster right as Spring Training opened.
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees leadoff hitter.
The Yankees were pretty inactive last offseason, at least in the sense that they didn’t import any actually good players from other teams, so the biggest upgrade they made was getting one of their own back from injury. Brett Gardner missed just about the entire 2012 season with an elbow injury that, three setbacks later, eventually required surgery. All told, he appeared in just 16 of the team’s 162 games last year.
Gardner was essentially replacing Raul Ibanez in the lineup and in the outfield. Ibanez did an admirable job for the Yankees last year, though his contributions are greatly overstated because he became a clutch homer machine in the final two or three weeks of the year. For the first five and a half months, he was pretty bad at the plate and downright terrible in the field. The two-way upgrade was obvious.
Oddly enough, Gardner’s season started with a position change. The Yankees dubbed it an experiment at first, but their plan was to move Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson over to left to best use their defensive skills. Brett has way more range and is the all-around superior defender, so he should play the tougher position. The team didn’t commit to anything and only said they were trying it out in camp, but J.A. Happ made it official when he broke Granderson’s forearm with a pitch in his first Grapefruit League at-bat. Took the decision right out of the team’s hands.
Just like that, Gardner was the full-time center fielder. The full-time center fielder and full-time leadoff man thanks to Derek Jeter‘s ankle injury and Ichiro Suzuki‘s noodle bat. The Yankees had tried Gardner in the leadoff spot in the past and the results were pretty bad, bad enough that he never stuck atop the lineup. This year was different. This year he had no choice but to be the leadoff man because the team had no other alternatives. Maybe that lack of competition helped Brett feel more comfortable, who knows?
Anyway, with the understanding that every everyday player will have ups and downs throughout the 162-game season, Gardner remained remarkably consistent at the plate over the course of the year. I give you two graphs:
The left graphs shows Gardner’s day-by-day OBP (the most important thing for a leadoff man) while the right shows his day-by-day wOBA (overall offensive production). There’s not a whole lot of deviation there, especially with the OBP. Pretty much the same guy from start to finish. There was a never point where taking him out of the leadoff was considered because he wasn’t hitting.
Gardner did have two notable hot streaks over the course of the summer. He hit three homeruns in a 13-game span from May 24th through June 5th, which is notable because he isn’t a power hitter. Not even close. The last of the three homer was his sixth of the year, one short of his career-high after only 59 games. As Jeff Sullivan noted, Gardner was doing it by being more aggressive at the plate — three of those six homers came on the first pitch while another came on the second pitch. He was ambushing fastballs early in the count instead of taking them for the sake of working the count. The power surge didn’t last — he hit only two homers in the team’s final 103 games of the season — but it happened.
The second hot streak, weirdly, started when the power surge ended. Starting on June 5th, Gardner went on a 24-game tear in which he went 35-for-100 (.350) with six walks (.387 OBP) and eleven doubles (.540 SLG). He had multiple hits in half of those 24 games. Near the very end of that insane hot streak, Gardner’s batting line topped out at .290/.348/.456 and had him in the conversation as a bubble player for the All-Star Game. He didn’t get elected obviously, but it was still cool just to hear him be considered. Hooray arbitrary endpoints.
Unfortunately, Gardner’s season ended prematurely when he strained an oblique muscle on a swing in his first at-bat of the September 12th game against the Orioles in Camden Yards. The injury ended his year — there was talk he could be available as a pinch-hitter late in the season, but that never happened — and left the team with a gigantic hole atop the lineup. Granderson had returned to take over center field by then, that wasn’t an issue, but the Yankees didn’t have anyone to properly set the table from the leadoff spot. The offense really sputtered down the stretch.
Overall, Gardner hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) while setting new career-highs in doubles (33), triples (ten), homers (eight) and plate appearances (609). He held his own against lefties (.247/.317/.427, 100 wRC+) and was a monster with men on base (.311/.379/.467, 130 wRC+). Pretty much the only complaint about Gardner’s offensive game was his relative lack of steals. After swiping 47 and 49 bases in his previous two full seasons, he only went 24-for-32 (75%) in stolen base chances in 2013.
Defensively … I’m not really sure what you can say. Gardner was very good overall but not truly elite like he was in left field, at least in my opinion. The defensive stats — +6 DRS, -0.5 UZR, -7.3 FRAA, -20 TotalZone (?!?) — aren’t too kind but a one-year sample doesn’t tell us much of anything. You’d expect the numbers to come down because Gardner was being compared to other center fielders and not other left fielders like he was the last few years, but geez, they shouldn’t come down that much. The FRAA and TotalZone numbers definitely do not pass my sniff test. You’re welcome to feel differently.
From start to finish, Gardner was the team’s second best position player behind Robinson Cano this season. By far too. It was Cano (big gap) Gardner (big gap) everyone else. That’s as much a statement about Gardner’s strong season as it is the rest of the roster. He didn’t show any lingering effects from the elbow injury and, even with the (lack of) stolen base weirdness, he was an above-average player on both sides of the ball. Again, that’s based on my opinion of his defense. The Yankees didn’t have many bright spots this year, but Gardner was very obviously one of them.
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review pretty much all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s strong record in one-run games.
One year ago, the Orioles snuck into the postseason thanks in part to a historic record in one-run games. Their 29-9 (.763) record in one-run contests was the best in baseball history, yet we spent all summer expecting them to crash back to Earth. It never happened. One-run games are highly volatile just because they’re so tight — one weird bounce or bad call by an umpire can change everything. Most teams walk the .500 line in one-run games.
The 2013 Yankees were the 2012 Orioles when it came to games decided by one run, though not as extreme. They didn’t make history or anything like that, but they did have baseball’s best record in those such games at 30-16 (.652). Winning those close games definitely helped them stay in the playoff race far longer than you would have otherwise expected. I think we can both admit this club had little business being within shouting distance of a playoff spot heading into the final week of the regular season.
The 46 one-run games were the fourth fewest in baseball and right in line with New York’s last few seasons. This wasn’t some kind of anomaly; they played 47 one-run games last year (.468 winning percentage), 45 the year before (.467), and 39 the year before that (.513). The Yankees didn’t play substantially more (or fewer) one-run contests in 2013, yet their winning percentage in those games went up while their overall winning percentage (across the full 162 games) came down. Outside of those one-run games, the Yankees went 55-61 (.474) and that sucks.
There’s an awful lot that goes into being successful in one-run games, with the most obvious being bullpens. When you have David Robertson in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth, those one-run cushions in the late innings tend to turn into wins. Bullpens are absolutely a factor, but there has been quite a bit of research showing their impact on one-run contests is generally overstated. The rest of the team usually has to make it a one-run game before the bullpen comes into play. The game situation controls reliever usage, not the other way around.
Offensively, the Yankees actually fared quite a bit worse in “close and late” situations this year than they did in previous years. “Close and late” situations are defined as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later where they are tied, ahead by one run, or have the tying run on deck. Here’s a quick breakdown of the team’s “close and late” performance in recent years:
So the winning percentage in one-run games got better while the offense was terrible in the late innings of close games. Okay then. I mean, they had a lot of bad hitters on the roster this summer, so it’s no surprise they didn’t hit much late in the game. They didn’t hit much overall. Anecdotally, the Yankees did seem to score a bunch of runs early in games this year before the offense went to sleep in the middle innings, but the stats don’t really bear that out — they scored 221 runs in innings 1-3, 224 runs in innings 4-6, and 205 runs in innings 7+. This isn’t some kinda weird run distribution thing.
Without re-watching each game and figuring out exactly what happened, it’s close to impossible to explain why a team was successful in one-run games. Heck, Mariano Rivera blew seven (!) saves this year and five of them were one-run leads. They actually came back to win two of those five (by one run, of course), but the Yankees could have very easily been 31-15 (.674) or 32-14 (.696) in one-run contests had Rivera not had what amounts to a down season for him. The Bombers had baseball’s best record in one-run games this year for many reasons, and whether those reasons continue next year is a mystery. After that historic record last summer, the Orioles had the fifth worst record in one-run games this year (20-31, .392). The magic isn’t guaranteed to last, but it’s not guaranteed to disappear all together either.
As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of pitchers. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.
After losing the long man competition to David Phelps in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Warren got his big league shot when both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the DL in late-June. He made a spot start against the White Sox and got absolutely pounded, surrendering six runs on eight hits (two homers, one double, five singles) in 2.1 innings. Warren walked two and struck out one. He spent the rest of the regular season back in Triple-A but did get recalled when rosters expanded in September, though he did not appear in a game.
Acquired from the Phillies in early-July, the 34-year-old Qualls appeared in eight games with the Yankees. He allowed five runs and ten hits in 7.1 innings with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two), though he did generate a bunch of ground balls (51.9%). His most notable moment in pinstripes was probably retiring the only two men he faced (Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo) on July 13th, keeping the deficit at three and allowing the Yankees to mount a late-innings comeback. The Yankees traded Qualls to the Pirates for Casey McGehee at the deadline.
Plucked off waivers from the Red Sox early-May, the 28-year-old Thomas spent the rest of the summer in Triple-A before getting the call when rosters expanded in September. The left-hander appeared in four games, allowing three runs in three innings. To his credit, Thomas did retire six of seven left-handed batters he faced with New York (two strikeouts). The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear room on the roster for David Aardsma late in the season, and Thomas has since moved on as a minor league free agent.
Mitchell, 25, also lost the long man competition to Phelps in camp. He went down to Triple-A for a few weeks before resurfacing when the Yankees needed an arm in early-May and then again in mid-July. He made four appearances total — two in each big league stint — and allow two runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Like Qualls, he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two) but generated a healthy number of grounders (57.9%). Mitchell was traded to the Mariners as part of the Ichiro Suzuki and spent the rest of the year in the minors.
Igarashi, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in late-May and managed to appear in two games with the Yankees. He allowed one run in one inning against the Mets on June 8th and three runs in two innings against the Blue Jays on August 12th. Both stints in the big leagues were very temporary, as he was sent down right away in favor of a fresh arm. It’s worth noting that Igarashi was a monster down in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) with 13.50 K/9 (34.4 K%) in 36.2 innings as the team’s closer. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster in August and he signed a new deal with a team in Japan earlier this offseason.
The Yankees signed the 30-year-old Aardsma to a one-year, $500k contract in late-February knowing he was unlikely to contribute much this year since he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander suffered a setback in June which delayed his rehab, but he progressed far enough that the team adding him to the active roster in late-September. He appeared in just one game before the end of the season, allowing a solo homer in an inning of work. After the season the Yankees exercised Aardsma’s $500k option for 2013 and will have the former Mariners closer in the bullpen to open next season.
As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of position players. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.
He was sparingly used during his three months on the roster, but the 34-year-old Wise hit .262/.286/.492 (106 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances for the Yankees. He also retired both batters he faced while pitching in a blowout loss. The team originally recalled him to fill Brett Gardner‘s roster spot before cutting him loose following the Ichiro Suzuki trade. Wise went 9-for-18 with a double, a triple, and three homers during an eight-game stretch in late-June/early-July, but his greatest contribution to the club — besides the bunt that turned the season around — was his non-catch against Indians in late-June.
Had the 30-year-old Dickerson not been on the minor league DL early in the season, chances are he would have been recalled to take Gardner’s spot instead of Wise. He instead had to wait until rosters expanded in September, and he went 4-for-14 (.286) with two homers and three steals in his limited playing time. Most of his action came as a defensive replacement in the late innings. I like Dickerson more than most and think he can be a useful left-handed platoon outfielder who also provides speed and defense, but it’s obvious the Yankees aren’t interested in giving him an opportunity. For shame.
Mesa, 25, was the team’s only true rookie position player this year. He came up when rosters expanded in September and only appeared in three games — one as a pinch-runner and two as a late-innings replacement in blowouts. Mesa did pick up his first career hit and RBI in his first big league plate appearance, singling on a ground ball back up the middle. His most notable play was a base-running blunder, when he missed the bag while rounding third base on an Alex Rodriguez single in extra-innings against the Athletics. Mesa would have scored the game-winning run, but alas. Rookie mistake.
The Yankees got a little cute prior to the All-Star break, claimed the right-handed hitting McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox before heading up to Fenway for a four-game set. The Sox were set to throw three left-handed starters in the four games, so the 34-year-old figured to see some playing time against his former team. McDonald instead received just four plate appearances, made outs in all of them, and collided with Curtis Granderson in center field. A run scored on the play. Embedded Red Sox? Embedded Red Sox.
Rakin’ Ramiro was on the roster for less than a week this season. The Yankees called him up after Alex Rodriguez had his hand broken by Felix Hernandez in late-July, but he was sent back down following the Casey McGehee trade a few days later. In between, the 27-year-old infielder singled once in four plate appearances and got into two other games as a pinch-runner. Pena became a minor league free agent after the season, ending his seven-year stint with the organization.
Just as with the manager and coaching staff, it’s difficult to evaluate a front office from the outside. Yes we can see the moves they make and speculate on moves they didn’t make, but we’ll never know the inner workings and all of the factors involved. Things like opportunity cost and the club’s internal evaluation of players are beyond our scope. Remember, a move can both make perfect sense at the time and be laughably bad in hindsight.
The Yankees started the year by making a series of front office changes in January, most notably hiring former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assignment scout and promoting pro scouting director Billy Eppler to assistant GM. I’m a fan of having multiple voices in the front office and Hendry is well-regarded within the game, so I liked his hiring just as I liked the Kevin Towers hiring back in 2010. The Eppler promotion was significant because for the first time since Brian Cashman took over as GM, an obvious line of succession had been established. Eppler was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels GM job last winter and now appears to be in line to replace Cashman down the road.
On the field, the Yankees made a number of great, good, okay, poor, and disastrous moves like every other team. Signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract was a masterstroke while the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade went sour in less than three months. Low-cost, one-year stopgap solutions like Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Clay Rapada worked out well while others like Chris Stewart and Andruw Jones did not. Minor league free agent signings like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise contributed while midseason pickups like Chad Qualls, Casey McGehee, and Steve Pearce were non-factors. Derek Lowe worked out fine after being plucked off the scrap heap in August.
The Yankees made one significant midseason move, acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners for two young arms. The 39-year-old agreed to a set of conditions prior to joining the team, specifically that he would move over to left field, bat towards the bottom of the order, and sit against tough lefties. Ichiro performed so well (.322/.340/.454, 114 wRC+) that he forced his way into regular playing time and a higher spot in the lineup by the end of the season. Even Ichiro’s biggest detractors (i.e. me) have to admit he gave the team a big shot in the arm down the stretch.
At the same time, I do feel the Yankees dragged their fit a bit making in-season upgrades. Obviously Brett Gardner‘s three setbacks contributed to that, but the team also didn’t act swiftly when it was obvious bullpen help was needed. Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson went down with injuries in May, then a few weeks later Cory Wade completely imploded. The only help they brought in before the deadline was Qualls, who predictably stunk. It appeared as though the Yankees were counting on Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery to shore up the bullpen, whether that was actually the case or not.
The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, and the front office has major work to do these next 15 months or so to make that happen. The Pineda trade was, by far, the team’s most long-term move this year and so far the worst case scenario has played out. The right-hander’s ability to rebound following shoulder surgery may be the biggest factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. The Kuroda signing and Ichiro trade worked out marvelously this year, but fair or not, the performance of the front office going forward will be heavily influenced by the results of that swap with the Mariners.
Evaluating a manager and his coaching staff is a very difficult thing for outsiders. The vast majority of their work takes place behind the scenes, so we’re left looking for clues in places they might not be. That pitcher learned a changeup? Great job by the pitching coach! That hitter is only hitting .250 when he usually hits .280? Fire the hitting coach! We have no idea what clues we dig up are actually attributable to the coaching staff, so we end up guessing.
Because of that, I don’t want to review Joe Girardi and his coaching staff in our typical “What Went Right/What Went Wrong” format. This review is almost entirely subjective and we can’t really pin anything (good or bad) on the coaching staff specifically. We know Curtis Granderson essentially revived his career after working with Kevin Long two summers ago, but having a specific example like that is very rare. Instead, we’ll have to take a broader approach.
I think 2012 was Girardi’s worst year as Yankees’ manager. Every manager makes questionable in-game moves during the season, but I felt Girardi made more this year than he had in any year since 2008, and it all started in the very first inning on Opening Day with the intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez. That still bugs me.
Girardi has long been considered a strong bullpen manager given his ability to spread the workload around and squeeze water out of scrap heap rocks, but this year he leaned very heavily on Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. Working Soriano hard wasn’t a huge deal because he was expected to leave after the season, but Logan made more appearances in 2012 (80) than any other reliever under Girardi, including his time with the Marlins. Robertson appeared in 65 games despite missing a month with an oblique injury. Part of it was a lack of alternatives (blame the front office for that) and the tight race, but this was something that started before the Yankees blew their ten-game lead.
Girardi also had two notable meltdowns (for lack of a better term), lashing out at a fan following a loss in Chicago and then getting into a shouting match with Joel Sherman after calling him into his office. Maybe my conduct standards are too high, but that kind of stuff is a major no-no in my book. It stems from pure frustration and there is zero good to come from it. Girardi didn’t have a bad year as manager, he did a fine job guiding the team despite an overwhelming about of injuries, but I feel that he’s had better years in the past.
Larry Rothschild & Kevin Long
When the Yankees hired Rothschild as pitching coach two years ago, he came to the club with a reputation of improving both strikeout and walk rates. That is exactly what has happened overall, and we can see it specifically with someone like CC Sabathia (strikeouts, walks). Obviously the personnel has changed over the last few years, but the Yankees managed to get productive seasons from scrap heap pickups like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last year while getting better than expected production from Hiroki Kuroda and even Andy Pettitte this year. We don’t know how much of a role Rothschild played in all of this, but the team’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations the last two years.
Long, on the other hand, came under big-time scrutiny following the club’s offensively-inept postseason showing and Mark Teixeira‘s continued decline from elite all-around hitter to pull-happy, one-dimensional slugger. At same time, he remade Granderson and helped Robinson Cano go from good to great. Long does preach pulling the ball for power and apparently that contributed to the team’s poor postseason, but the roster overall is built around guys who pull the ball for power. Outside of Cano and Derek Jeter (and later on, Ichiro Suzuki), the Yankees lacked hitters who could hit to the opposite field. Like Rothschild, we don’t know how much a role Long has played in all of this, and I’m not even convinced preaching power these days is a bad thing given the decline in offense around the league.
Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Rob Thomson & Mick Kelleher
Not really much to add here. Thomson, the third base coach, does have a knack for being a little overly-aggressive with his sends in tight games while at other times he will hold guys who would have clearly been safe, but every third base coach does that. The Yankees have had an above-average stolen base success rate in recent years (77-79%), so I guess Kelleher is doing a fine job of reading moves and relaying that info over at first base. Other than that, we have very little basis for which to judge these guys on. Despite the whole “everyone should be fired because there are obviously better coaches available!” mentality than can fester following an embarrassing playoff loss, all indications are the entire staff will return fully intact next year.
I can’t believe I’m actually writing a season review post for Andy Pettitte. The 40-year-old left-hander was retired a little more than ten months ago, having thrown what we thought was his final big league pitch in Game Three of the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers. He spent all of last season at home and showed up to camp as a guest instructor this year, which is pretty routine for notable former players. Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes.
While in Spring Training as an instructor, Pettitte threw a bullpen session for Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the whole nine. The two sides actually discussed a substantial contract ($10-12M range) during the offseason, but Andy told the team to proceed without him because he wasn’t sure he wanted to make a comeback. That money went to Hiroki Kuroda, then in camp Andy again broached the subject of coming back to pitch. On March 16th, halfway through the Grapefruit League schedule, he signed a one-year minor league contract worth $2.5M.
Pettitte was obviously behind the rest of the pitching staff, so his comeback attempt started in the minor leagues. He made one appearance at the end of Spring Training then progressively climbed the minor league ladder. First came three innings with High-A Tampa, then four innings with High-A Tampa, then five innings with Double-A Trenton, then another five innings with Triple-A Scranton. He was ready to go by early-May and the Yankees needed him — Michael Pineda just had shoulder surgery, Phil Hughes had a dreadful April, and Freddy Garcia was so bad that David Phelps took his spot in the rotation.
Andy’s first start back came at home against the Mariners on May 13th. He allowed two two-run homers in 6.1 innings in the loss, but he looked like the Andy Pettitte of old. He was cutting his fastball, sweeping his slider, and inducing double plays at just the right time. Five days later he struck out nine Cincinnati Reds in eight shutout innings, officially putting an exclamation point on his comeback attempt. Through the end of June, his first nine starts back, Pettitte pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 58.2 innings with ungodly peripherals: 9.05 K/9 (25.2 K%), 2.30 BB/9 (6.4 BB%), and 58.3% grounders. He wasn’t just a solid veteran starter, he was pitching like an ace.
The comeback came to screeching halt in the fifth inning of a start against the Indians on June 27th, when a Casey Kotchman hard-hit ground ball clanked off Pettitte’s left ankle. He went after the ball but crumbled to the ground, then was lifted one pitch later. Andy talked the training staff into leaving him in the game after some warm-up tosses, but it was obvious something was wrong. The diagnosis came down after the game: Pettitte had fractured his left ankle and would be out six weeks.
Those six weeks became seven weeks when Andy pushed his rehab a little too hard and suffered a setback, so he didn’t return to the team until mid-September. He did all of his prep work in simulated games — no minor league rehab games at all — and returned to the rotation against the Blue Jays on September 19th. Limited to 75 pitches, Pettitte threw five scoreless innings and followed up with six scoreless innings on 88 pitches against the Twins five days later. Rain threw a wrench in the late-September plan, limiting Andy three starts instead of four. The Yankees lost both of Pettitte’s playoff starts but they weren’t hit fault — he allowed five total runs in 13.2 innings.
Andy’s comeback featured a 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 75.1 innings across a dozen starts, plus some of the best peripherals of his career: 8.24 K/9 (22.8 K%), 2.51 BB/9 (6.9 BB%), and 56.3% grounders. There was legitimate concern about how the year-long layoff would impact Pettitte, but I joked that maybe it did his body good and gave him ample time to rest and heal up. That’s exactly what appeared to happen, funny enough. Pettitte looked as good as ever when he was on the mound, though the ankle injury obviously took a little blush off the rose. Either way, the Yankees came into the season expecting to get literally nothing out of Andy, but he made a successful comeback and became a valuable and important member of the rotation.