Archive for What Went Wrong
Given how the 2013 season unfolded and where the Yankees finished in the standings, you might assume that we’ve produced more What Went Wrong posts than ever in the past. How could things have gone more wrong than any year in the recent past? you might ask. Apparently more things went wrong last year, when we produced twenty-six posts in the What Went Wrong series. This post marks number twenty-three this year.
In one sense, this statistic does not check out. How could have more things gone wrong in a season when the Yankees won the division, owned the best record in the American League, and made a trip to the ALCS, than in a season where they won 85 games and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin? Clearly that is not the case. So why did we produce more What Went Wrong posts last year than this year?
Because the entire roster suffered from poor construction and bad luck.
Perhaps that was by design, to an extent. Last year’s free agent crop was paltry and pathetic, with few players worthy of a multiyear deal. This off-season, while thin by 00s standards, stands out above both the 2013 and 2015 free agent classes. Better to hold off, then, during a poor free agent class and reload when there are better players available.
Design cannot explain all, or even most, of the Yankees’ roster woes in 2013. Many needs went completely unaddressed in the off-season. Losing a few key players during, and before, the season hurt them further, exacerbating those off-season construction flaws. As a result the Yankees fielded what was almost certainly their weakest roster since 1993.
The 2012 Yankees featured a fairly balanced lineup. They hit lefties and righties very well, and hitters of both handedness produced impressive numbers. But as we quickly learned, many of those players would not be back. Nick Swisher, for one, was almost certainly a goner. Russell Martin jumped on an early offer from the Pirates. Then we learned that Alex Rodriguez would require hip surgery, shelving him until July at the earliest. More than 30 HR from the right side of the plate were leaving town, and it was anyone’s guess how much they’d lose from A-Rod. Combine that with Derek Jeter‘s injury and uncertain return, and it added up to an enormous need for right-handed production.
Adding Kevin Youkilis made sense in many regards. He hit right-handed and played third base, and so could replace at least some of Rodriguez’s production. One folly was replacing an injured player with a guy who has had trouble staying on the field, specifically with back troubles. The other was adding no other right-handed hitters, at all.
Instead the Yankees added Ichiro Suzuki, a no-power lefty, and — and that’s basically it. Perhaps the players they liked wanted to play elsewhere, or signed contracts the Yankees deemed out of their desired price range. Maybe the trade market didn’t develop in the way they’d imagined. Whatever the case, the Yankees knew they were losing a huge chunk of their right-handed production and did very little to address that depletion.
Why didn’t the Yankees make a more concerted effort to keep Martin (he reportedly would have accepted a one-year deal) or sign a player who fit, like Torii Hunter? The story we heard was that they were focusing on pitching. They wanted to make sure that they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That would ensure a strong pitching staff. The offense, by their own admission, took a back seat. By the time they were ready, the good players were off the board. It showed in the team’s performance.
Key injuries and replacement players
At least when the Yankees learned of Rodriguez’s injury, they had time to find a replacement. When a J.A. Happ pitch stuck Curtis Granderson‘s forearm in his first spring training at-bat, the Yanks had few potential replacements; while Brett Gardner could slide into center field, that still left vacant an outfield spot and further depleted the lineup’s power.
About a week later further disaster struck when Mark Teixeira left the WBC with a wrist injury. Not only would the Yankees be without their slugging first baseman for the start of the season, but they had absolutely no one in camp to replace him; at the time the candidates were Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera, who ended up getting a combined 5 PA in the majors in 2013 (all Johnson), and Youkilis, who was already replacing Rodriguez.
Had they been so inclined, the Yankees could have used Eduardo Nunez to replace Rodriguez at third, sliding Youkilis over to first. Alas, towards the end of camp Derek Jeter reinjured his ankle, moving Nunez into the shortstop position. To man first base they nabbed Lyle Overbay, who had been released by Boston — who wouldn’t have been so bad if they had a right-handed platoon partner for him.*
*Overbay did hit .258/.317/.432 against righties, and that number was quite a bit higher earlier in the season, so he wasn’t a total zero the entire time. Then again, who’s to say what would have happened if they’d found a platoon partner. Does Overbay produce those numbers while sitting against lefties? That’s the big unknown about platoons: anyone in one has to buy into it. If a guy feels he needs consistent at-bats to get into a groove, chances are he won’t succeed in a platoon even if his splits suggest he would. Ya know, 90 percent of the game being half mental and all.
To replace Granderson the Yankees flexed their financial biceps to acquire Vernon Wells from the Angels. They ended up paying him $13 million in 2013, just so they could avoid having him count against the luxury tax in 2014. For about a month that worked out well — which seemed perfect, because Granderson was due back in a little over a month. Which is another disaster story in itself.
It didn’t take Youkilis even a month to hurt himself, even further depleting the infield. Matters got worse when Eduardo Nunez got hurt in early May — and you know your roster is in poor shape when it takes a significant hit with a Nunez injury. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, Jayson Nix, the guy who might not have even made the team had Jeter not reinjured his ankle, got hurt in early July. That necessitated acquiring Luis Cruz, recently DFA’d by the Dodgers.
In early May Travis Hafner, who had enjoyed a resurgent April, suffered a shoulder injury. Fans winced, but to our surprise he did not go on the disabled list. Clearly he should have. From that point onward he hit .169/.250/.301, after hitting .260/.383/.510 through mid-May. It should have been predictable that Hafner, who made four disabled list trips in 2011 and 2012, would have gotten hurt.
Granderson came back and got hurt again. Teixeira came back and wasn’t ready for action. Youkilis came back and hobbled around until it was apparent he needed surgery. Jeter eventually came back, and then got hurt. And then came back again. And then got hurt. Finally, after collecting just eight hits in 44 at-bats, he shut it down. Even Rodriguez got hurt after coming back, forcing him into the DH spot for the last 20 or so games of the season. Gardner got hurt at the end of the season, which seemed to demolish whatever little hope the Yankees had remaining; they went 6-9 afterward, half of those wins coming against the punchless Astros and another two coming against the nearly equally punchless Giants.
Lack of outfield depth
To say the Yankees have failed to produce outfielders doesn’t state the case strongly enough. Yes, they drafted and developed Brett Gardner, a small speedster who developed into a decent ballplayer, but other than him what outfielders have they developed in the last six years? The last eight? The last ten? It seems that ever since they traded away Juan Rivera and Ricky Ledee 10 years ago that they have lagged greatly in the outfielder development department. There was Melky Cabrera, who was OK, Gardner, who is a fair success, and who else?
It is no wonder, then, that they were ill prepared for injuries in the outfield. By itself letting Swisher walk might not have been a bad call. They acquired him for essentially nothing, one of those my junk for your good player trades we frequently see, and laugh at, in the comments. They paid him a wage commensurate with his contribution, during his prime years. Letting him go was probably the smart move, if not the typical Yankee move. Only problem was, they had no viable replacements.
Did they honestly think Ichiro would continue the run he started after heading to the Yankees? From what we read in the aftermath, ownership forced the issue there, convinced Ichiro would earn his salary in marketing dollars. When Granderson went down they had to trade for Wells, who had produced an 86 OPS+ in the last two seasons combined. Their only hopes on the farm were Melky Mesa, a strikeout-heavy guy who wasn’t going to hit major league pitching, and Zoilo Almonte, another strikeout guy who actually got better in that regard during the 2013 season, came up, hit some baseballs, and got hurt.
It wasn’t until they acquired Alfonso Soriano that they started to trot out halfway decent outfields. Which brings us to…
Futility of the trade deadline
At close of business on May 23, the Yankees sat alone atop the AL East. A combination of unexpected offensive contributions and an expectedly good pitching staff put them in a position to contend. That’s all they could have asked for, given the circumstances. It appeared that reinforcements were in the offing. Curtis Granderson had just returned to the lineup. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were nearing rehab games. The band was getting back together.
The next day, Granderson got hit with another pitch that broke a bone. A week after that both Teixeira and Youkilis did return, but they provided almost no positives before they both went back on the DL and underwent season-ending surgeries. The Yankees, still in first place by a few percentage points on May 26, had fallen into third place by June 13. On July 1 they sat in fourth place. The fill-ins had done an admirable job while the main players recovered from injury. But now that they were injured again, the Yanks needed more reinforcements.
The trade deadline can be considered a failure, but only because the Yankees didn’t acquire the players they needed to put them over the top. But could they really have expected to replace all the players who fell victim to injury? The list of needs ran deep: an outfielder and a first baseman, one of whom absolutely needed to be a right-handed hitter with power, and a pitcher, at the very least. A catcher would have been nice, too, if unattainable. When was the last time a team was able to add that many players — at least two of them impact players — at any one trade deadline?
Complicating the issue was the matter of players available. It takes two parties to consummate a trade, so if other teams weren’t selling, or weren’t buying what the Yankees were offering, no deals were possible. There didn’t seem to be many impact hitters available at all. In fact, the Yankees undoubtedly got the best hitter who was traded at the deadline in Soriano. In terms of pitching there were Matt Garza and Jake Peavy, who both could have helped the Yankees. But can it be considered a failure that they failed to acquire either?
The problem with the trade deadline represented a microcosm of the trouble with the entire roster throughout 2013. The pickings were slim. Flaws cropped up in the off-season, and became exposed when a few key players suffered injuries. The lack of depth on the farm, resulting in the inability to call up useful players, further complicated the roster woes. By the time the trade deadline rolled around it was too late to make any meaningful upgrades. There were too many holes.
It remains a surprise that the Yankees, with their pitiful roster, managed to remain interesting for more than half of the 2013 season (April, May, August, half of September). They managed to win only 85 games, but that far outpaced almost all of their projections, based on run differential and strength of schedule. So while the team was pretty unwatchable for a few months, they did manage to remain in contention far longer than anyone imagined.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. Most of those miscellaneous players were awful, enough to help push the Yankees out of the postseason picture. Here are the worst players to walk through those revolving doors.
The signs were there, we just didn’t want to see them. The Yankees released the 26-year-old Adams in Spring Training to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vernon Wells (!), but no team took a chance on him and New York re-signed him to a minor league contract a week later. When Kevin Youkilis went down with his inevitable back injury, Adams got a chance to play third base on a regular basis. Things went quite well at first — 13-for-44 (.295) with two homers in his first eleven games — but they crashed in a hurry. Adams fell into a 4-for-51 (.078) slump and wound up back in Triple-A before resurfacing later in the season. Overall, he hit .193/.252/.286 (45 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances, though he did play solid defense at second and third bases. Adams had a pretty great opportunity this summer, but he couldn’t capitalize.
Almonte, 24, got his chance when the Yankees finally got sick of Wells and benched him in mid-June. Zoilo’s big league career started out well — he had three hits (including a homer) in his first start (video), reached base three times the next day, then doubled twice the day after the that — before he cooled off and got hurt. Almonte put up a .236/.274/.302 (55 wRC+) line with the one homer and three steals in 113 plate appearances before an ankle sprain effectively ended his season in mid-July (he did return in late-September, but played sparingly). The fun was short-lived.
You may not agree, but I think Boesch was a pretty significant loss this past season. The 28-year-old managed a .275/.302/.529 (124 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 53 sporadic plate appearances and appeared to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but he was sent to Triple-A Scranton when Curtis Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He lasted a little more than a week in the minors before suffering what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury. The Yankees released him in mid-July when they needed a 40-man spot. Had Boesch been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been given the opportunity to play everyday following Granderson’s second injury considering how poorly Ichiro Suzuki hit for a good part of the summer. Boesch is a flawed player but his lefty pop would have been useful. For shame.
Bootcheck, 35, emerged as the ace for Triple-A Scranton this past season (3.69 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 136.2 innings) and he managed to appear in one game with the big league team. On June 14th, he allowed one run on two hits and two walks in 1.1 innings against the Angels. Bootcheck got his chance because Adam Warren threw six innings of relief (in the 18-inning game against the Athletics) earlier on the road trip and wasn’t going to be available for a few days, so the team needed a replacement long reliever. He was designated for assignment at the end of the trip when Warren was again available.
Is it possible to be a poor man’s Brendan Ryan? Do those exist? If they do, I nominate the 27-year-old Brignac. He was with the Yankees from mid-May through mid-June, during which time he showed off a slick glove and hit an unfathomable .114/.133/.136 (-38 wRC+) with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Brignac played 15 games in pinstripes and he reached base multiple times in only one of them. It was ugly.
For a few weeks, Claiborne looked like the next great homegrown Yankees reliever. He started his big league career with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes. Claiborne, 25, had settled into a seventh inning setup role, but he allowed 13 runs and 38 base-runners in his next 25.2 innings and earned a trip back to Triple-A. When he resurfaced in September, he allowed nine runs and four homers (!!!) in five innings. Fatigue was the oft-cited excuse for his fade, but Claiborne threw only 61.1 innings in 2013 after throwing 82 innings in 2012 and 81 innings in 2011. It’s possible, sure, but I have a hard time buying it. Claiborne finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, but outside of those first 14 appearances, he was very untrustworthy.
Cruz, 29, was the team’s fifth different starting shortstop in their first 84 games, but he actually wound up playing more games at third (13) than short (five). An all-glove, no-hit type like Ryan and Brignac, Cruz hit .182/.224/.200 (13 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances while playing excellent defense after being picked up off the scrap heap. He was the best non-Ryan infield defender the team employed this past season, I thought. Cruz’s season came to an end in late-July thanks to a knee sprain, and the Yankees eventually designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Reynolds.
Remember Eppley? He was actually on the Opening Day roster, believe it or not. His terrible Spring Training (12 runs in eight innings) carried over to the regular season, where he allowed four runs in 1.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Scranton when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL in early-April. Eppley, 28, continued to stink in Triple-A (18 runs in 19 innings) and was eventually released to clear a 40-man spot for Claiborne. He was a nice middle relief find for the Bombers last season, but things went so wrong this year that he was pitching in an independent league by August.
The Yankees took a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” approach to filling their right-handed outfield bat spot, eventually settling on the 32-year-old Francisco. He was released by the Indians in Spring Training and managed to beat out guys like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera. Francisco lasted 48 team games, hitting .114/.220/.182 (13 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances overall while going 3-for-34 (.088) against southpaws. On the bright side, he did hit the team’s shortest homerun of the season. I guess that’s something. The Yankees designated Francisco for assignment on May 26th, when they claimed David Huff off waivers from the Tribe.
Gonzalez, 30, had two stints with the Yankees this season. He appeared in three games in mid-May and ten more from late-June through mid-July. The Former Attorney General went 6-for-34 (.176) in his limited time, but he did go 2-for-4 with a double and three runs driven in during a game against the Twins on July 2nd (video). Gonzalez also offered a nice glove, though not as nice as Brignac’s or Ryan’s.
Yes, Ishikawa was a Yankee this season. They nabbed the 30-year-old off waivers in early-July, watched him go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on seven total pitches in his only game in pinstripes, then designated him for assignment to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter, all in the span of six days. When’s the Yankeeography?
Joseph, 25, had two stints with the big league team in 2013, going 1-for-6 with a double, a walk, and a strikeout while starting both ends of a doubleheader against the Indians in mid-May. His season ended later that month, when he needed surgery to repair his shoulder. The Yankees removed Joseph from the 40-man roster last week, though he remains in the organization.
Part of that left side of the infield circus, the 30-year-old Lillibridge spent a little more than three forgettable weeks in pinstripes in late-July and early-August. He went 6-for-37 (.171) with eight strikeouts while playing okay defense in eleven games with the team, though unlike many other guys in this post, he did have the proverbial One Big Moment. On July 23rd against the Rangers, after Eduardo Nunez tripled in the tying run against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, Lillibridge singled in Nunez for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run (video). He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice earlier in the game. Lillibridge was designated for assignment when Alex Rodriguez came off the DL.
This was a really bad year for Marshall, who had a poor season with Triple-A Scranton (5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 138.2 innings) and didn’t stand out in his three-appearance cameo with the big league team. The 23-year-old allowed six runs and 21 base-runners in a dozen garbage time innings, walking as many batters as he struck out (seven). He did manage to save the bullpen by holding the Red Sox to one run in 4.1 innings during a blowout loss in one of those appearances, however. Marshall also got to pitch in front of his family near his hometown in Houston during the final game of the season (video), so that was neat.
Miller, 31, struck out 92 batters in 63.1 innings down in Triple-A this past season (3.55 ERA and 3.22 FIP), but he got hammered in his only big league game, allowing three runs to the Red Sox in a four-out appearance on September 7th. The Yankees were desperate for bullpen help at that point and he was a warm body. Apparently the team saw something they liked though, because they re-signed Miller to a minor league deal recently.
The 2013 season was an overwhelming success for the 22-year-old Murphy, but not because of his big league performance. He hit .269/.347/.426 (117 wRC+) across two minor league level before joining the Yankees in September, when they added him to the 40-man roster because he was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway. Murphy went 4-for-26 (.154) in 16 games during his late season cameo and looked fine defensively.
Neal, 26, was the organization’s #Free[RandomGuy] this past season. You know what I mean, right? The random Quad-A player sitting in the minors who would be so much better than whoever they have at the big league level if they’d only give him a chance! Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Neal put up a .325/.391/.411 (130 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton before going 2-for-11 (.133) with really bad defense during a four-game cameo in pinstripes in mid-June. He was designated for assignment when Granderson came off the DL (the second time) and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cubs.
Nelson was something of a pioneer this past season. He was the first of many players the Yankees acquired in an effort to solidify the left side of the infield, coming over from the Rockies in a minor trade in early-May. Nelson, 28, played ten games in pinstripes, all at third base, and went 8-for-36 (.222) with eleven strikeouts at the plate. He actually went 0-for-10 in his first three games and 8-for-26 (.308) in his last seven. The team designated Nelson for assignment when they called up Adams, and he was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Naturally, Nelson returned to the Bronx with the Halos in mid-August and hit two homers (including a grand slam) in one game against the Yankees. Go figure.
I wish I had kept track of home many times Zagurski warmed up but did not appear in the game in September. The guy was up every game it seemed. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year bouncing between organizations before getting the call as an extra lefty late in the season. In his only appearance with the team, he faced three batters and allowed two runs. That appearance made him the franchise-record 56th player used by the Yankees in 2013. Let us never talk of this season again.
It’s one thing for idiot fans like me to sit back and say the Yankees haven’t gotten enough out of their farm system in recent years. It’s another for the team itself to acknowledge that. In August, Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting to look into their development system and figure out why the farm was unable to provide help during an injury-riddled 2013 season. The system was examined over a several week stretch and while no major personnel changes were made, the Yankees did opt to make some procedural changes. They admitted things weren’t going right and did something to correct it.
The Yankees had eight players come up from the farm system to make their Major League debut this season and the best of the bunch was LHP Vidal Nuno at 0.7 bWAR. He appeared in five games and threw 20 innings before a groin injured ended his year in early-June. The other seven players — IF David Adams, OF Zoilo Almonte, C J.R. Murphy, IF Corban Joseph, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Brett Marshall, and LHP Cesar Cabral — totaled 0.1 bWAR in 150 combined games. C Austin Romine (-0.7 bWAR) spent most of the year in the big leagues and failed to establish himself. The most productive player to come out of the system this year was swingman RHP Adam Warren, who racked up 1.2 bWAR in 77 innings. Needless to say, the Yankees didn’t get much help from within this past season.
As always, there are a number of reasons why things went wrong in the farm system. It’s never just one thing. Here are the three biggest in my opinion, and for reference, I’m including my preseason ranking of each player in parentheses.
Might as well start with the inevitable. Injuries are completely unavoidable; they are point of the game and they’re never going away. At least not anytime soon, who knows what will happen a hundred years down the line. The Yankees came into 2013 knowing LHP Manny Banuelos (#6 preseason prospect) would miss the season following Tommy John surgery in October, but they were dealt another pitching blow in Spring Training when RHP Ty Hensley (8) needed surgery to pair both hips. Just like that, the team’s top prospect from a year ago and their most recent first round pick were lost for the season before Opening Day.
Also lost to injury were RHP Mark Montgomery (10), who was limited to 45.1 innings due to shoulder and back problems. If he had stayed healthy, there’s a chance he would have been in the big leagues instead of Claiborne for much of the summer. OF Tyler Austin missed several weeks with a bone bruise in his wrist. 2B Angelo Gumbs (9) missed a month with a finger problem and had his season end in mid-August due to an unknown injury. RHP Jose Ramirez (12) missed the start of the season due to fatigue and was shut down in late-July with an oblique issue. 2B Corban Joseph (20, shoulder), RHP Nick Goody (21, Tommy John), and LHP Matt Tracy (22, hip) all had some kind of surgery while OF Ravel Santana (28) never made it onto the field because of a broken arm and lingering ankle problems.
Not that my rankings are definitive, but that’s nine of the team’s top 30 prospects — including four of the top ten and five of the top 12 — who missed considerable time in 2013. Two of New York’s three best pitching prospects did not throw a single pitch this summer while two of their closest to MLB arms were limited to 119 combined innings and zero after August 10th. That’s a lot of missed development time. Guys can’t get better if they’re not on the field. Injuries really ripped through the organization this year.
In addition to the health problems, the Yankees had a number of their best prospects not perform up to expectations. OF Mason Williams (2) followed up a 125 wRC+ in 2012 with an 87 wRC+ in 2013. Austin went from a 163 wRC+ to a 103 wRC+. OF Ramon Flores (5), who I was very high on coming into the year, put up a 104 wRC+ this summer after managing a 126 wRC+ a year ago. That’s three of the team’s top five prospects right there. Three of five failing to live up to expectations.
Others like RHP Brett Marshall (13) and OF Melky Mesa (26) did not force the issue after starting the year in Triple-A. Marshall pitched to a 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings while Mesa managed a 106 wRC+ with a 33.7% strikeout rate before being released. SS Austin Aune (14), who received a nearly double-slot $1M bonus as the team’s second round pick in 2012, posted a 46 wRC+ with a 43.6% strikeout rate (!) in Rookie Ball this year. I get that he’s inexperienced because his split his high school time between baseball and football, but my goodness. Gumbs and Montgomery didn’t perform well when healthy either. That’s a lot of important prospects — important in the sense that they were either ranked highly or knocked on the door at Triple-A — having down seasons.
Having a bad year really stinks but it does not doom a prospect. Countless guys have rebounded from subpar minor league seasons and went on to be successful, like Robinson Cano (.695 OPS in 2003) or Ivan Nova (4.98 ERA in 2007). Back-to-back bad years is a problem and at least somewhat of an indication they aren’t developing as expected. Back-to-back bad years in which the second year is worst than the first is an enormous red flag and what happened to 3B Dante Bichette Jr. (27). After putting up a 84 wRC+ with a 18.0% strikeout rate with Low-A Charleston in 2012, he hit to an 82 wRC+ with a 24.5% strikeout rate at the same level in 2013. That’s a major problem and a big reason why the kid is a borderline (and that’s being kind) non-prospect two years after being the 51st overall pick in the country.
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Not everything went wrong in the farm system this year, of course. C Gary Sanchez (1) and OF Slade Heathcott (4) both had very good years while RHP Jose Campos (7) rebounded very well after missing most of last season with an elbow problem. Murphy (15) took a huge step forward — he led all minor league catchers with 105 games caught, according to Josh Norris — and RHP Dellin Betances (23) finally found success after moving into the bullpen. The team’s draft haul in June was outstanding as well. Overall, however, the farm system took a hit this past season and the Yankees don’t have any impact prospects knocked on the big league door. It’s a problem both this winter (no good trade chips) and when planning for the roster down the road.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with two big signs fans are losing interest in the Yankees.
For the first time in five years and only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees missed the postseason in 2013. They didn’t just miss the postseason, they missed the postseason because so many of their best players either got hurt or underperformed. I’m not talking about minor injuries either — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira combined for 76 games (44 by A-Rod) while Curtis Granderson missed over 100 himself. CC Sabathia had the worst season of his career and Andy Pettitte battled injury and ineffectiveness for a long stretch of time. The only star-caliber constants were Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera.
As a result, fan interest was the lowest it’s been in years. Certainly the lowest since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. I don’t think the Yankees do a very good job of cultivating fans with caravan events and stuff like that — get to the Stadium early and Chris Stewart might shake your hand at the gate! — and their in-game entertainment at the ballpark is older than half the roster. The Subway Race is still pretty cool but the YMCA and the Match Game and Cotton-Eyed Joey are all outdated. Dammit do I hate Cotton-Eyed Joey. The giveaways* are pretty lame as well.
* Special shout out to the Yankees for the awful Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Day experience as well. Yes I’m still bitter.
When the Yankees aren’t winning, it’s not all that fun to go to Yankee Stadium. It’s too expensive and the non-baseball stuff isn’t worth it. When the Yankees aren’t winning and half their star players are hurt or playing poorly, they’re barely worth your time. That lack of fan interest showed this season in more ways than one.
Attendance across baseball was down slightly this season, an average of 333 fans per game*. That’s 1.08%. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw their average attendance drop 3,245 fans per game from 2012 to 2013, or 7.4%. It would have dropped even more if not for the Mariano Rivera retirement tour boost in September — three of their four highest attended non-Opening Day games were in late September. Attendance has dropped 5,429 fans per game since the first season of the new Stadium back in 2009, or 11.8%. Obviously the team’s attendance has trended downward quite a bit the last three years, especially relative to the league average. I don’t think you needed the above graph to see that.
* Attendance data courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Unfortunately, information on network ratings is hard to find, or at least I don’t know where to look. According to Joel Sherman, the YES Network saw ratings fall a whopping 33% this past season. Neil Best said it was roughly 39% back in late-May, so Sherman’s number passes the sniff test. The network’s highest rated game of the season was Alex Rodriguez’s return and I’m sure there was a boost for the Rivera/Pettitte retirement tour in September as well. The exact percentage of the decline really isn’t important. We know there was a significant decline in ratings in 2013 and that’s all that matters. If the numbers reported by Sherman and Best are true, that’s staggering.
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So, clearly attendance and ratings were a problem this year, and they are one representation of fan interest. If people aren’t interested in the team, they won’t watch and they sure as hell won’t spend a boatload of money to attend a game. Thankfully I’m not the one who has the figure out the solution to this problem, that’s on the Yankees. The declining attendance and ratings is the result of many, many things I’m sure. Ticket prices and the economy, fan apathy, lack of star players in 2013, ownership talking about slashing payroll at every opportunity, a team that isn’t all that exciting on the field … all of that and more is playing a part here. It’s a problem and, based on all the talk this winter, the club seems to think adding several big name players will be the way to fix it. Maybe it’ll work. They have to hope it will.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the end of a disappointing homegrown era.
This was the biggest year of Phil Hughes‘ career. He was coming off a disappointing but almost perfectly league average 2012 season and had the opportunity to pitch his way into a hefty free agent contract this summer. This wasn’t your average contract year. Hughes’ walk year potentially meant going out onto the market at age 27 (!) with AL East and small ballpark success under his belt. Teams would have been lining up to pay him.
Rather than capitalize on that opportunity, Phil had the worst non-injury plagued season of his big league career. The end result was a 5.19 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 145.2 innings across 29 starts and one relief appearance, a performance that was below replacement level. Outside of a four-start stretch from late-April through early-May, Hughes never really put it together for any length of time. There was only one other instance this year in which he surrendered two of fewer earned runs in three consecutive starts. It was ugly for a number of reasons. Here are a few.
Homers For Everyone
Believe it or not, Hughes actually improved his homerun rate from 2012 to 2013. He allowed 35 homers in 191.1 innings last summer, which works out to 1.65 HR/9 and 12.4% HR/FB. This past season it was 24 homers in 145.2 innings, or 1.48 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB. Obviously the sheer volume of homeruns allowed is a problem, but timing was an issue as well. Twenty-three of those 35 homers in 2012 were solo shots (66%) and 25 came when the score was separated by two or fewer runs (71%). This season, 17 of 24 homers were solo shots (71%) and 22 of 24 (!) came with the score separated by no more than two runs (92%).
Obviously there is more to consider here than just Hughes — the Yankees played nothing but close games this past season because they had a crappy offense, so he had more opportunities to give up dingers in tight games. Still, it goes to show how untrustworthy Phil was for a team that needed steady and reliable pitching to compete. Any pitcher can give up a homer at any time, but Hughes is especially long ball prone and all season we sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the #obligatoryhomer. Every start he was walking on eggshells.
Aside from missing his very first start of the season due to lingering back problem, Hughes did take the ball every five days for the Yankees. Despite that, he failed to throw enough innings (162) to qualify for the ERA title. Hughes led all of baseball with 14 (!) starts of fewer than five full innings of work, four more than second place Barry Zito and five more than second place in the AL Erik Bedard. Part of that was Joe Girardi‘s general lack of faith in him, as the skipper rightfully showed a very quick hook late in the season.
Among the 192 pitchers to make at least ten starts in 2013, only eight averaged fewer innings per start than Hughes (5.01). The guy was a drain on the rest of the pitching staff. He taxed the bullpen when he pitched and that’s something that can (and often did) carry over and impact the next day’s game. Calling Phil a five-and-fly starter this year would be pretty generous.
Getting Ahead But Not Putting Away
There is one thing that Hughes does exceptionally well, and that’s get ahead of hitters. He threw a first pitch strike to a whopping 71.7% of batters faced in 2013, the highest rate in all of baseball (min. 100 innings). Patrick Corbin (70.2%) and Cliff Lee (68.5%) were the only other pitchers within four percentage points of Phil. Furthermore, Hughes was second in baseball by going to an 0-2 count on 26.3% of batters faced this summer. Only Lee (28.7%) was better. There’s no denying Phil did an outstanding job of getting ahead in the count and putting himself in a position to succeed.
However, he rarely took advantage of those opportunities. Hughes’ lack of a legitimate put-away pitch led to foul ball after foul ball and prolonged at-bats, so much so that he ranked 118th in pitches per plate appearance (3.97) out the 145 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings. He was 134th in pitches per inning (17.5). Batters hit a remarkable .281/.290/.409 (177 OPS+) against Phil when he was ahead in the count and a ridiculous .245/.290/.413 (213 OPS+) when he jumped ahead 0-2. The league average following an 0-2 count was .167/.197/.248 this summer. That’s nut. It’s easy to think Hughes is an out-pitch away from becoming an ace given his ability to get ahead in the count, but you can say that about a whole lot of guys. He’s not anything special in that regard.
* * *
Barring something completely unexpected, Hughes will leave the Yankees and sign with a new team as a free agent this winter. He pitched his way out of a qualifying offer — making the offer seemed like a no-brainer as recently as late-July or so — so the Bombers won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. For shame.
Hughes will leave the Bronx having pitched to a 4.54 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 780.2 innings. That’s the third highest ERA and tenth highest FIP in team history among the 88 pitchers to throw at least 500 innings in pinstripes. Only Hank Johnson (4.84 ERA and 4.82 FIP), who played a century ago, and A.J. Burnett (4.79 ERA and 4.31 FIP) are worse in both categories. Hughes was electric as a reliever during the team’s World Championship season in 2009 and he had two years as an adequate back-end starter (2010 and 2012), but otherwise he was a huge disappointment and another example of the team’s inability to turn its top minor league talent into top Major League contributors.
CC Sabathia was in the best shape of his life. Following a season in which he was twice placed on the disabled list, and after which he underwent offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia decided the time had come to shed some of his excess weight. It wasn’t the first time; he had come to camp a bit slimmer in 2011 as well, but gained back much of that weight during the season. This time, the weight loss was here to stay.
The result: the worst year of his 13-year career, by no small measure.
We can start with the obvious, that Sabathia’s 4.78 ERA (85 ERA+) ranked 35th out of 37 qualified AL pitchers. All of his peripherals declined from his 2011 to 2012 levels. Watching his starts you could see the points at which he’d start to unravel. In 28 of his starts he made it to the sixth inning, and during those sixth frames opponents hit .339/.419/.550 against him. The list goes on.
Did Sabathia’s troubles stem from the weight loss? After all, he did turn in a very good 2012 season despite the injuries. While causation is always difficult to prove, there are some indicators that Sabathia did not adjust to his new body type. If that is the reason for Sabathia’s poor 2013, there is certainly hope for 2014 and beyond; mechanics are correctable.
Sabathia has started his off-season a bit early, going on the DL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain just a few days after turning in one of his best performances of the season (albeit against the hapless Giants). He should be fine for Spring Training, and thanks to the necessary rehab from the injury he might come into camp a bit stronger. Perhaps with some more repetitions, he’ll iron out his mechanics. But this represents the optimistic scenario for last year. We’re still here to discuss what went wrong in 2013.
While his weight loss might have played a role in his poor 2013, it’s hard to ignore another possible factor: past workload. Sabathia pitched a full season, 33 starts, at age 20, and has made at least 28 starts in each following season. Before he signed his first contract with the Yankees he had thrown 1659.1 innings. Heading into the 2013 season he had thrown 2564.1. He has now thrown the 139th most innings in MLB history, at age 33. That can be a good thing as well as a bad thing, of course. Tim Hudson has lasted through more innings than Sabathia, and is about five years older. There are cases where players can throw lots of innings and hold up.
In reading the last three paragraphs, you might have noticed the same thing I did while writing it: that each paragraph ends on an optimistic note. It is difficult to write about such an obviously disappointing season from a guy expected to anchor the rotation, hence the “things could be better” follow-up to every negative point. Instead of continuing in this fashion, perhaps it’s best to list the final few factors in his poor 2013 and let that be that.
- Sabathia’s tERA, which accounts for batted ball types, stood at 4.87, the worst of his career and a full run worse than 2012.*
- His average velocity was down a mile per hour from 2012, and nearly 3mph from 2009 — though his velocity did rise as the season progressed.
- Then again, there was a drop-off after a steady rise sometime in August. Perhaps that was a turning point?
- He used his changeup more often than any year since 2010, but according to weighted values it was worth negative runs. Chances are that has to do both with the drop in fastball velocity and with his command issues; hanging changeups go a long way.
*Not that I buy totally into the value of tERA, but it is one tool with which we have to measure pitchers. Just like all other stats mentioned.
Honestly, after 2013 there’s nothing to do but hope that Sabathia gets stronger while rehabbing his hamstring, gets in as many reps as he needs in Spring Training, and starts 2014 fresh. Otherwise the last three to four year of his contract are going to hurt.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with yet another player who was exposed by far too much playing time.
Before every season, usually sometime in Spring Training, MLB’s people get together and start piecing together the All-Star ballot. The ballots are released in late-April for fan voting and it takes a few weeks to actually print these things and get them in every ballpark, so they have to prep before the season. As part of that preparation, they confer with every team about their positions and All-Star candidates. Some are obvious, like Robinson Cano at second base for the Yankees. Others aren’t so clear.
The Yankees listed Chris Stewart as their catcher on this year’s All-Star ballot.
Not Frankie Cervelli, who eventually took over as the starting catcher late in camp and early in the season, but Stewart. The guy who we heard was in line to be the starter all winter after Russell Martin bolted for the Pirates because dammit, his defense was that good. He couldn’t hit, but he’ll help the team by throwing out runners and framing the hell out of some borderline pitches. The Yankees were planning to play him so much that they dubbed him worthy of the All-Star ballot.
On April 26th, after a foul tip broke Cervelli’s hand, Stewart became the starter. It was clear Joe Girardi had little faith in Austin Romine, and, frankly, Romine didn’t exactly force the issue either. Stewart was the starter almost by default. He actually wrapped up April with a perfectly fine .294/.333/.382 (97 wRC+) batting line, production any of us would have happily taken over the full season. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.
Instead, Stewart predictably crashed. He fell into a 3-for-22 (.192) slump in early-May and hit .240/.286/.360 (73 wRC+) for the month overall. June was more of the same, with an ugly 7-for-37 (.189) stretch and an overall .255/.354/.291 (84 wRC+) line. Romine stole a few starts in early-July and Stewart went into the All-Star break hitting .241/.316/.306 (73 wRC+) with three homers in 170 plate appearances. He had started 54 of the team’s 95 games up to that point, more starts than he had in any other full season of his career.
As expected, Stewart completely collapsed in the second half. You can’t expect a career backup, even a reasonably young one like Stewart (he turns 32 in February), to suddenly play every single day without wearing down. He went 7-for-49 (.143) in his first 18 games after the All-Star break, dragging his overall season batting line down to .219/.296/.279. This is where I remind you he came into this past season a career .217/.281/.302 hitter. Stewart was played exactly as any reasonable person would have expected.
The second half slide continued all the way through the end of the season, and things got so bad at one point that on September 13th against the Orioles, Stewart struck out on two strikes:
If that’s not rock bottom, I don’t want to know what is. On the other hand, Stewart did make what might have been the Yankees’ best defensive play of the year. I don’t remember any better off the top of my head.
Stewart hit an unfathomably bad .169/.262/.226 (37 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances in the second half as Romine and J.R. Murphy saw more playing time behind the plate not necessarily because they earned it, but because Stewart played himself out of the lineup. That dragged his overall season batting line down to .211/.293/.272 (58 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances. Two-hundreds across the slash line board. Among the 32 catchers to bat at least 300 times this year, Stewart ranked 31st in wRC+. J.P. Arencibia (57 wRC+) should be ashamed of himself.
So yeah, Stewart was an unmitigated disaster on offense. I don’t think anyone seriously expected otherwise. But what about defensively? Well, Stewart was second in baseball with 12 passed balls — Arencibia had 13 and he had to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — despite ranking 17th in innings caught. He did throw out 17 of 54 attempted base-stealers, a 31% success rate that was quite a bit better than the 26% league average. Pitch framing data is hard to come by, but a late-September update at Baseball Prospectus said Stewart was one of the ten best pitch-framers in the game (but not one of the top five) without giving us a runs saved value. An early-September update at ESPN had him at 17 runs saved. Overall catcher defense is damn near impossible to quantify even these days, but Stewart was obviously very good at framing pitches and a bit above-average at throwing out base-runners, but he didn’t do a good job blocking balls in the dirt.
If it wasn’t for the pitch-framing, Stewart would have been below replacement level this season, even for a catcher. An above-average but not truly excellent throw-out rate isn’t enough to make up for the passed ball issues and overall awful offense, both at the plate and on the bases. Framing pitches is his only redeeming quality and he’s lucky he’s so good at it, otherwise he probably would have been out of league by now. Similar to Jayson Nix, Stewart is a backup player who is best used once or twice a week but was forced in regular duty this past season. It’s not his fault he can’t hit or got worn down in the second half, it’s the team’s fault for putting him in that position in the first place.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the captain who wasn’t around to go down with the ship.
This was the season Derek Jeter was never supposed to have. He’s Derek Jeter. Things are always supposed to go his way, and if they don’t, he proves people wrong and makes them go his way. Last season was a perfect example. The Cap’n was supposed to be finished, a washed up former star who was losing a fight with Father Time. Instead, he led the big leagues in hits (216), at-bats (683), and plate appearances (740). Thirty-eight-year-old shortstops aren’t supposed to do that.
Jeter finished that remarkable season on a down note, playing through a bone bruise in his left ankle during the month of September before it finally gave out and fractured in Game One of the ALCS. He had surgery in late-October and although the rehab timetable meant things would be tight, it appeared he would be ready in time for the start of Spring Training. Unfortunately, Father Time started started to win the war after losing the battle in 2012.
The offseason was full of gossip stories about Fat Derek Jeter and reports that his rehab was right on schedule. The Cap’n emphatically said he was working hard and would be ready in time for camp. Ultimately, that was not the case. Jeter’s rehab had slowed down at some point and he was far behind the other position players in Spring Training. He didn’t play in his first Grapefruit League game until mid-March and only appeared in five total, as many as Cito Culver. It was clear he would not start the season on time.
Jeter opened the 2013 campaign on the DL as he continued his rehab from the ankle surgery. In early-May, right when everyone was expecting him to return to the lineup, the Yankees announced their captain had suffered a major setback — there was a new fracture in the ankle, a smaller hairline crack that would nevertheless keep him out until the All-Star break. New York was getting nothing offensively from Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix at the shortstop position, so the setback was a big blow.
It wasn’t until July 11th, four days prior to the All-Star break, that Jeter joined the team. He played in only four rehab games and was rushed back to serve as the DH when Travis Hafner‘s shoulder started barking (again). Jeter was in the lineup for the series finale against the Royals and his return lasted all of eight innings. He legged out an infield single in his first at-bat of the year but felt tightness in his right quad when he tried to do the same a few innings later. The Yankees kept Jeter active over the weekend and through the All-Star break to see if he’d feel better, but that didn’t happen and back to the DL he went.
The second DL stint was shorter, only 17 days total. Jeter rejoined the team one day prior to a West Coast trip through two NL cities that would force him to play the field. That (second) first game back from injury resulted in one of the most memorable moments of the season, a first pitch solo homer off Rays left-hander Matt Moore:
Jeter played a total of four games at shortstop (the game against the Rays and three on the West Coast) before his right calf started acting up. Tests revealed a Grade I strain and just like that, the Cap’n was right back on the DL. This stint lasted 24 days. When he returned on August 26th, the team’s 131st game of the season, the Yankees were seven games back in the division and six games back of the second wildcard spot.
Following the third DL trip, Jeter stayed healthy for approximately two weeks. He wasn’t all that effective, going 9-for-48 (.188) with one extra-base hit (a double) and ten strikeouts while playing ten of 13 games at shortstop. After missing so much time due to injury and only playing in seven rehab games — that’s seven rehab games total: four coming back from the first injury, zero coming back from the second, three coming back from the third — it was no surprise he showed considerable rust at the plate. The problem was the Bombers were slipping in the standings and couldn’t afford the lack of production.
Jeter’s season came to an end on September 7th, when he exited a game against the Red Sox in the sixth inning with soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle. Tests came back clean but he was going to sit a few games before returning to the lineup. The team didn’t want to risk yet another setback. Four days later, with the Yankees sitting ten games back in the division and three games back of the second wildcard spot, Brian Cashman announced Jeter was being placed on the DL to prevent him from pushing too hard to come back after the doctor said he needed to strengthen the area around his ankle before returning. Jeter’s fourth DL stint of 2013 ended his season.
All told, the Cap’n hit just .190/.288/.254 (48 wRC+) in only 17 games around the various leg injuries this past season. He made four separate trips to the DL this summer after making four total from 1999-2012. The Yankees never really came out and said so, but the team and their doctors gave indications the leg injuries were all related — Jeter was compensating for one injury but putting extra stress elsewhere on his body. Certainly sounds reasonable, especially with leg injuries, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Jeter missed all that time and it hurt the team dearly in 2013.
Rather than wait for him to exercise (or decline) his $9.5M player option for next season, the Yankees re-signed Jeter to a one-year contract worth $12M about two weeks ago. They reportedly agreed to the increased salary (and luxury tax hit) in exchange for avoiding a repeat of their contentious negotiations from three years ago, which only makes sense if Jeter’s camp indicated he was prepared to decline the player option and ask for more money. The Cap’n had no leverage following his self-proclaimed “nightmare” season but the Yankees gave into his demands anyway. Jeter is a total unknown heading into next season but the team paid him as if he’ll be a big time contributor because hey, he’s Derek Jeter and things are always supposed to go his way.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the utility infielder who was forced into regular duty.
Before the season even started, the Yankees had two injured regular infielders. Alex Rodriguez was going to be out until the All-Star break following hip surgery and while Derek Jeter was initially expected to be ready for Opening Day, his slow progress in Spring Training was sign of things to come. Injury-prone Kevin Youkilis was brought in to replace A-Rod and the unreliable Eduardo Nunez was the backup plan for Jeter, so incumbent utility man Jayson Nix was an important cog in the Yankees machine.
It’s easy to forgot that when camp opened, Nix wasn’t even on the 40-man roster. The team re-signed him to a one-year, $900k contract over the winter and immediately designated him for assignment — Nix agreed ahead of time to accept the minor league assignment to Triple-A Scranton if he cleared waivers. He was re-added to the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training (along with Ben Francisco!) to round out the bench. Nix was likely to make the team the whole time, but the team took advantage of his situation — unlikely to find a guaranteed $900k elsewhere — to create a 40-man roster spot over the winter.
At the start of the year, New York’s plan was to play Youkilis at first base and Nix at third against left-handed batters. Nix appeared in three of the team’s first five games (two starts) and went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, but he broke out in the sixth game by going 3-for-4 with a two-run homer against Justin Verlander. He continued to play sparingly for another two weeks until Youkilis’ back gave out, at which point Nix became the everyday third baseman. When Nunez hurt his ribcage in early-May, Nix took over at shortstop with David Adams stepping in at third.
From April 20th through July 1st, a span of 66 team games, Nix hit .244/.312/.305 with one homer and 61 strikeouts (!) in 241 plate appearances. That’s a 25.3% strikeout rate for a player who was hitting with no power. Nix started 58 of those 66 games and appeared in four others off the bench. He was a regular, playing every single day at either shortstop of third base. It’s worth noting he had a real nice 20-game stretch from late-May through mid-June, going 23-for-72 (.319) with ten runs driven in (.730 OPS).
Nix’s time as a regular came to an end in early-July when he was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade II hamstring strain. He hurt himself running the bases at some point. On the DL he remained for four weeks, until being activated on July 28th. By then Nunez had returned from his ribcage injury (and was kinda sorta hitting) and both Jeter and A-Rod were days away from returning. The team always wanted to give Adams another shot and soon acquired Mark Reynolds for third base support. The playing time well had dried up.
After coming off the DL, Nix appeared in 14 of the Yankees’ next 21 games but had only started nine of them. He went 7-for-30 (.233) with ten strikeouts during those 21 games and was mostly pinch-running and replacing A-Rod late in games for defense. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 20th, Nix hit a game-tying solo homer off Mark Buehrle in the seventh inning before lacing the walk-off single against Darren Oliver in the ninth. It was his best game of the season.
In his first at-bat the very next day, Nix’s season came to an end when an errant R.A. Dickey knuckleball broke his left hand. It hit him flush. Talk about a serious roller coaster of emotion. He went from the highlight of his year to a season-ending injury in the span of 24 hours. Brutal.
All told, Nix hit .236/.308/.311 (70 wRC+) with 80 strikeouts (26.4%) and 13 extra-base hits (three doubles) in 303 plate appearances this season. He did go 13-for-14 in stolen base chances and hit a tolerable .266/.357/.330 (93 wRC+) in 114 plate appearances against left-handers. Nix led the team in starts at third base (33) and was second in starts at shortstop (41). I thought he was rock solid defensively at both positions. Steady and reliable. Regardless of your WAR preference, Nix was a smidge above replacement level (0.7 fWAR and 0.8 bWAR).
The problem this season wasn’t so much Nix himself, but the fact that he had to play so damn much. That’s all due to the injuries. It certainly wasn’t by design. I think Nix is a solid utility infielder who is best used once or twice a week like a normal utility infielder, not as a platoon third baseman or whatever. Certainly not as a starter. He chipped in some big hits this summer and played admirably even though he was exposed with all that playing time. It’s not Nix’s fault he played so much this year, but all that playing time is the reason he was a
baseball player net negative in 2013.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the baseball world’s most expensive sideshow.
I don’t even know where to start this post. Alex Rodriguez brought an unprecedented amount of negative to the Yankees this past season, both in terms of off-the-field distractions and in a pure on-field baseball sense. It was remarkable. A chore to sit through on a day-to-day basis but utterly fascinating at the same time. I guess the best way to do this is chronologically. Links take you to the pertinent RAB post.
December 3rd: Oh hey, Alex needs major hip surgery
During the very first day of the Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman took to the podium not to announce a trade or a free agent signing, but to announce that Rodriguez needed surgery to repair a torn labrum and a bone impingement as well as correct a cyst in his left hip. The injury apparently occurred sometime late in the regular season and was to blame for his dreadful postseason showing. (Unfortunately the rest of the team had no such excuse.) The surgery required 4-6 weeks of “pre-hab” and a 4-6 month recovery time, meaning A-Rod would be out until the All-Star break or so. The Yankees scrambled to sign Kevin Youkilis as a replacement third baseman and he managed to play fewer games than Alex in 2013, but I digress.
January 26th: Enter Anthony Bosch
This is the first time most of us heard about Bosch, a seedy quasi-doctor in South Florida who was being investigated by MLB and the DEA for allegedly providing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, including A-Rod. This would not be the last time we heard about him. Not by a long shot.
January 29th: A-Rod is officially connected to Bosch and PEDs
A few days later, The Miami New-Times published a lengthy exposé that included detailed records showing A-Rod had indeed received HGH and other banned substances from Bosch during a period of time from 2009-2012. The records included payment schedules and all sorts of other stuff. A number of other players were connected to Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic in the report as well. Over the next few days, we heard there was basically no chance the Yankees would be able to void the remaining five years and $114M left on Rodriguez’s contract.
February 12th: No camp for A-Rod
As MLB conducted their investigation into Bosch and Biogenesis behind the scenes, the Yankees started Spring Training without Alex. He was directed to stay home and continue his rehab following the hip surgery in New York. The injury provided a convenient excuse but it obvious the team wanted their third baseman nowhere near the club. They didn’t want the distraction. One day after the announcement, A-Rod was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for the newly-acquired Shawn Kelley.
April 12th: A-Rod may or may not have purchased Biogenesis documents
The Biogenesis story started to get cooky in mid-April, when it was reported A-Rod tried to purchase documents from people connected to the clinic in an effort to keep them away from MLB. Later that afternoon, a different report shot that down. Meanwhile, MLB was in the process of filing lawsuits against Bosch and several other important parties, but not Alex or any other players.
May 2nd: Cleared for baseball activities
A little less than five months following the surgery, Rodriguez and his surgically repaired hip was cleared to resume baseball activities. This was the first step of a long, long road. It wasn’t a typical rehab. A-Rod had to slowly build himself up before returning to the team.
June 6th: Attempted extortion
By now we all knew MLB was out for blood. They wanted to bury A-Rod and Ryan Braun specifically, the biggest names in the Biogenesis scandal. The league was looking to suspend upwards of 20 players, but especially those two because they were considered serial users and multiple time offenders. On this date, we learned Bosch tried to extort a six-figure sum from Rodriguez before agreeing to cooperate with MLB’s investigation. In exchange for Bosch’s cooperation, MLB dropped their lawsuit, covered his legal bills and civil liability, and provided him with bodyguards. Jumping into bed with the league after trying to extort A-Rod is shady, shady stuff.
June 10th: A-Rod to Japan?
Oh, by the way, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan called the Yankees to inquire about Rodriguez’s availability over the winter, but New York never bothered to call them back. This is a real thing that really happened.
June 25th: STFU
In a passive aggressive attempt to annoy the Yankees and MLB and whoever else, A-Rod was tweeting out details about his rehab. The team didn’t take too kindly to that, to the point that Brian Cashman suggested his third baseman should “shut the f**k up” while talking with a reporter. The GM eventually apologized and all that, but frustration had started to boil over.
July 2nd: Rehab games
Seven months after surgery and two months after being cleared to resume baseball activities, Rodriguez began an official minor league rehab assignment with Low-A Charleston. He went 0-for-2 and played three innings at third base. His 20-day rehab window had begun.
July 20th: When quads attack
Bad weather forced Alex to jump between minor league levels during his rehab, but he was with Triple-A Scranton in the middle of July and was only a few days away from rejoining the team when he felt some tightness in his left quad. Supposedly it wasn’t bad, so he was not scratched from that night’s game. They shifted him to DH instead.
July 21st: Grade I
The Yankees sent A-Rod for tests on his quad, tests that revealed a Grade I strain. Rather than meet the team in Texas to be activated off the DL as scheduled, he would be shut down for roughly two weeks. I am convinced the team delayed his return as long as possible because they hoped he would be suspended so they could be rid of him and the distraction. Completely convinced.
July 24th: Quad injury? What quad injury?
Three days after the Grade I strain diagnosis, Dr. Michael Gross called into Mike Francesa’s show to say he saw no quad strain when he gave Rodriguez an unofficial second opinion. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t see any injury there,” said Gross. A-Rod reported no pain and said he felt ready to be activated off the DL and play that night. The Yankees later fined Rodriguez because he sought a second opinion without first notifying the team in writing per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He was sent for a third opinion the next day that confirmed the Grade I strain diagnosis. Things were starting to get weird, needless to say.
August 2nd: Rehab, part deux
Rodriguez returned to Double-A Trenton to start his rehab (again) and homered in his first game. He drew four walks the next day, in what was ultimately his final minor league game of 2013.
August 5th: A-Rmageddon
This is when things got completely nuts. On the afternoon of August 5th, A-Rod and a dozen other players were officially suspended for their ties to Biogenesis. Those 12 other players all received 50-game bans and started serving their suspensions immediately. Rodriguez received a record 211 games that covered the rest of 2013 and all of 2014. MLB essentially gave him 50 games for being a first-time offender and 161 games for trying to interfere with their investigation. Despite rumors that Bud Selig would invoke a commissioner’s power that would ban Alex from baseball in the “best interests of the game,” he did no such thing.
Unlike the other 12 players, Rodriguez appealed his suspension and rejoined the team that night. On the same day he was given a historic suspension, he played his first game of the season. Crazy. A-Rod met the club in Chicago for a three-game series with the White Sox and went 1-for-4 with a walk in his first big league game of 2013. Not coincidentally, the YES Network recorded their highest ratings of the season that night. Alex went 15-for-47 (.319) with two doubles and two homers (.897 OPS) in his first 12 games back and gave the offense a major shot in the arm.
August 17th: Enter Joseph Tacopina
Tacopina, A-Rod’s lawyer for his appeal, blasted the Yankees during an interview and said the team deliberately endangered his client’s health by playing him with the hip injury during the postseason last year in an effort to get him out of baseball. He claimed the team hid MRI results that showed the labrum tear. “They rolled him out there like an invalid and made him look like he was finished as a ballplayer … They did things and acted in a way that is downright terrifying,” said Tacopina. The next day we learned Alex’s camp had started the process of filing a medical grievance. Cashman told reporters he felt uncomfortable around A-Rod but rooted for him because he wore pinstripes. So very weird.
August 18th: Officer Ryan Dempster, Baseball Police
In the finale of a three-game set with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Dempster took it upon himself to punish Rodriguez for his alleged PED crimes. He threw the first pitch of their first encounter behind A-Rod’s legs, the next two inside at his waist, and the fourth at his ribs. Joe Girardi got tossed after storming out of the dugout because both benches were warned but Dempster was not ejected despite obviously throwing at a player. The righty would be suspended five games a few days later. A few innings later, Alex hit a monster solo homer to dead center against Dempster, the team’s longest homer of the season. New York came from behind in the late innings to win what was then a huge game. Probably the highlight of the season, no?
September 10th: Hamstrung
With his batting line sitting at .301/.388/.496 after 31 games and 129 plate appearances, Rodriguez was forced out of a game against the Orioles with tightness in his left hamstring. No tests were performed and A-Rod returned to the lineup the very next night as the DH. The Yankees were fighting for a wildcard spot, after all. He would not play the field again the rest of the season.
September 15th: Now, the calf
Five days later, Alex had to leave a game against the Red Sox with tightness in his right calf. The team was off the next day and A-Rod returned to the lineup the day after that, again as the DH. At this point he was playing on a bad calf, a bad hamstring, and two surgically repaired hips. It was obvious the mounting leg injuries were affecting him at the plate as his swing was basically all arms late in the season. He looked like he did during the postseason last year. In his final 13 games of the season, basically from the hamstring injury through the end of the year, A-Rod went 4-for-43 (.093) with two homers (.483 OPS), including his record 24th career grand slam. He finished the season with seven homers and a .244/.348/.423 (113 wRC+) batting line in 44 games and 181 plate appearances.
September 30th: Now the show really starts
The appeal hearing of Rodriguez’s suspension started the first day after the end of the regular season. MLB kicked things off with about a week’s worth of testimony — the two sides traded public barbs the whole time — but scheduling conflicts put the hearing into a recess until mid-November. The hearing will resume on November 18th and a ruling is not expected until sometime in mid-December.
October 4th: Lawsuits for everyone
If A-Rod goes down, he’s going down with guns blazing. Early last month, his legal team filed two separate lawsuits: one against Selig and MLB for their “witch hunt” and trying to push him out of the game, and another against team doctor Christopher Ahmad for misdiagnosing his hip injury last fall. Refer back to the August 17th entry. He reportedly asked the union to step down as his lead counsel during the appeal because he felt they had not take advantage of opportunities to challenge the league’s shady investigation. Rodriguez is burning every bridge in an attempt to clear his name. Proceedings for the lawsuit against MLB started just yesterday. Nothing had started in the case against Ahmad as far as we know.
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So that is all of it. Eleven months of scandal and injuries and baseball and more scandal. It’s something only A-Rod could pull off, really. The Yankees can now do nothing but sit and wait as the appeal process plays out, hoping their highest paid player gets suspended for a most if not all of next season so they have some extra money to work with this offseason. What a crazy world we live in.