Archive for What Went Wrong

Nov
05

What Went Wrong: Ichiro Suzuki

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a big name outfielder who provided small name production.

Yep.

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a move will work out exactly the way I expected it to work out. The Ichiro Suzuki re-signing was one of those moves. It was a terrible signing at the time (two years!!!) and it looks just as terrible today. Those three great weeks at the end of last season were a total mirage — the Magic of the Pinstripes™ failed Ichiro miserably in 2013. He looked old and washed up because, well, he’s old and washed up. Here is his 2013 season in three acts:

Act One: The Terrible Start
It’s hard to believe Ichiro was asked to be the everyday right fielder at the outset of the season. Yet there he was, starting ten of the team’s first 13 games and playing against both righties and lefties. He singled to center field in his second at-bat of the season and then went hitless in his next 14 at-bats. Ichiro went 8-for-42 with one extra-base hit (a homer) in the team’s first 14 games, good for a .190/.255/.262 batting line. The Yankees were winning and an early season slump is usually nothing to worry about, so Suzuki got a free pass because hey, he’s Ichiro Suzuki and he’ll figure it out.

Act Two: The Inevitable Hot Streak
Naturally, Ichiro figured it out and went on a two-and-a-half month hot streak. From April 19th through July 4th, a span of 70 team games, he hit .296/.339/.408 with four homers and 12 stolen bases in 255 plate appearances. It wasn’t exactly Ichiro circa 2004 or even Ichiro circa September 2012, but it was good enough. The highlight of the hot streak was a walk-off solo homer against Tanner Scheppers and the Rangers, one of four games in which New York swatted four of more homers in 2013.

That 70-game hot streak featured 18 multi-hit games and only 26 strikeouts, raising his season batting line to .280/.318/.387. Ichiro was piling up base hits and making noise on the bases, plus he was still playing solid defense. He was contributing both at the plate and in the field, exactly what the injury-riddled Yankees needed. The early slump was forgotten and any concern that he was, uh, old and washed up disappeared for a little while. A streak like this was inevitable at some point, I felt.

Act Three: The Awful Finish
Things very quickly went south for Ichiro. Following the (arbitrarily cut-off) hot streak, he went into a 6-for-27 (.222) and 17-for-73 (.233) slide. Ichiro hit .239/.272/.290 with two homers and eight steals in his final 253 plate appearances and the team’s final 76 games of the season. Ichiro started only 57 of those 76 games because he hit his way out of the lineup, first losing time to Zoilo Almonte and then to Curtis Granderson before Brett Gardner got hurt late in the year. He did record his 4,000th professional hit on August 21st, which was pretty cool:

Ichiro finished the season at .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) with seven homers and 20 steals (in 24 attempts) in 555 plate appearances. He set new career worsts in AVG, OBP, wRC+, stolen bases, and plate appearances. It was, by a not small margin, the worst offensive season of his career. Ichiro did play strong right field defense despite developing what appeared to be a Bobby Abreu-esque fear of the wall late in the season. Maybe he was hiding an injury and didn’t want to aggravate it by running into the wall, who knows. Maybe that explains the noodle bat as well, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

* * *

Depending on your preference, Ichiro was either a 1.1-win player (fWAR) or a 1.4-win player (bWAR) in 2013, obviously on the strength of his defense. That’s … okay, I guess. It’s basically the bare minimum for a starting player. Suzuki’s season, these three acts, is best shown in graph form:

Ichiro 2013 wOBA

Down, then up (teetering on good!), then really down.

Unfortunately, we’re all going to get a look at Act Four in 2014. Ownership signed Ichiro to a two-year contract (!!!) and pending the team’s offseason moves, he is currently slated to open next season as the regular-ish right fielder. His skillset at this point is that of a fourth or fifth outfielder: some average, no on-base skills, no power, good base-running, good defense. The kind of guy you can find for maybe a million bucks in the offseason. Instead, Ichiro and his unparallelled marketability will earn $6.25M in 2014 and again provide below-average production. Old, overpaid, and on the decline. The Yankees way.

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Nov
04

What Went Wrong: Austin Romine

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young player who failed to take advantage of a good opportunity.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

After Russell Martin signed with the Pirates and the Yankees declined to bring in another catcher, it was obvious Austin Romine would get a chance to play at some point this past season. He was slated to open the year with Triple-A Scranton while Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart held down the fort at the big league level, but the opportunity was inevitable. Either someone would get hurt or play their way off the roster.

Sure enough, the opportunity came towards the end of April. Cervelli took a foul tip off his right hand and was expected to miss several weeks with a fracture, but a setback and a 50-game suspension eventually ended his season. For all intents and purposes, Romine was the backup catcher to Stewart this season. The opportunity came and it came early.

The first ten weeks in the show were a total disaster for Romine. He hit .132/.145/.176 with 17 strikeouts and zero walks (!) in 71 plate appearances from late-April through mid-July, a span of 23 starts and 32 games played. I get that playing sporadically — it was obvious Joe Girardi had an affinity for Stewart and would play him whenever possible — is tough to do, especially as a kid when you’re used to playing everyday, but man were the first weeks ugly for Romine. He looked completely overwhelmed.

Romine spent several weeks working with hitting coaching Kevin Long while also getting input from his father Kevin, a former big league outfielder with the Red Sox. His performance started to turn around in mid-July, right before the All-Star break. Romine played in three of four games before the break and went 3-for-8 with a double and his first walk of the season, which was something to feel good about. I think that “something to feel good about” part was rather important. There’s no doubt the kid needed a confidence-booster.

The playing time remained sporadic immediately after the break but Romine kept hitting, enough that Girardi started playing him a little bit more. He started ten of the first 25 games after the break and went 13-for-32 (.406) with five walks, four doubles, and his first big league homer, a monster solo shot to dead center field at spacious Petco Park. Three weeks later, he had his best at-bat of the season, working a nine-pitch bases-loaded walk against David Price.

The mini-hot steak came to an abrupt end in mid-August and Romine went only 3-for-27 (.111) with seven strikeouts the rest of the way. His season ended on September 10th against the Orioles, when he took a foul tip to the face mask and suffered a concussion. Romine was actually cleared to play late in the season but Girardi didn’t take a chance. They basically shut him down for the year, which was a wise move.

All told, Romine hit an awful .207/.255/.296 (48 wRC+) with just the one homer in 148 plate appearances this season. He only threw out eight of 38 attempted base-stealers as well, a well-below-average 21%. I thought he was okay on balls in the dirt and stuff like that, but who really knows. There isn’t an easy or reliable way to quantify that stuff.

What we do know is that Romine was terrible at the plate and at throwing runners out. Really terrible. The little hot streak was encouraging but who knows if it was a glimpse of what he can really do or just that, a hot streak. Either way, Romine was given a great opportunity this summer and he couldn’t capitalize. The starting catching job is wide open both right now and for the foreseeable future, yet he was unable to take advantage. Romine could have cemented himself in the team’s long-term plans with a strong showing this summer, but it just didn’t happen.

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Oct
30

What Went Wrong: Lyle Overbay

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the replacement level replacement first baseman.

(Rob Carr/Getty)

(Rob Carr/Getty)

The Yankees acquired their 2013 starting first baseman with only six days to go in Spring Training. Mark Teixeira suffered a wrist injury in early-March and at the time he was expected back in mid-May, so the team only needed a stopgap for six weeks or so. The Red Sox gave their lefty bench bat spot to Mike Carp and cut Lyle Overbay loose with a week to go in camp, which is when New York pounced. He was the best available option.

Much like most of the team’s veteran retread pick-ups, the 36-year-old Overbay was quite productive for the first 50 or so games of the season. He wasn’t exactly hitting for average or getting on-base, but Lyle hit for a surprising amount of power and had a knack for big, late-inning hits. During an 86 plate appearances stretch in early-to-mid-May, Overbay hit .269/.318/.526 with eight doubles and four homers while pacing Robinson Cano for the team lead in runs driven in. Many of those runs he plated came in crucial situations:

  • April 28th: Two-run homer against R.A. Dickey to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead in the seven inning.
  • May 10th: Overbay went 4-for-5 with five runs driven in against the Royals, including a sixth inning run-scoring double that broke the tie and gave the Yankees the lead.
  • May 20th: Solo homer against Orioles lefty Troy Patton to break the tie and give New York a lead in seventh inning lead.
  • May 25th: A solo homer off Rays righty Josh Lueke gave the Yankees the lead in the 11th inning.
  • May 28th: Broke a scoreless tie with a run-scoring single against Matt Harvey.

From the start of the season through the game with that single against Harvey, Overbay managed a robust 0.928 WPA, meaning he chipped in close to a full win of value with timely hits despite having a mediocre .251 average overall. His numbers with runners in scoring position (.268/.367/.415 in 49 plate appearances) were okay but he was a monster in situations defined as “close and late” (.286/.407/.714 in 27 PA), though sample size caveats apply. “Close and late” plate appearances come in the seventh inning or later with a one-run lead or the tying run at least on deck, plus anything in between.

Overbay played well enough in the first two months that even after Teixeira returned from his wrist injury at the end of May, the Yankees kept his bat in the lineup by sticking him in right field, a position he had not played since rookie ball in 1999. The right field experiment lasted four games and was mostly a disaster defensively. Well, not mostly. It was an outright disaster. No one could blame Overbay though, the team was desperate for offense and he was one of their most productive players, so Joe Girardi & Co. did what they had to do to help the team win.

Teixeira re-injured his wrist during a series against the Angels in mid-June and eventually needed season-ending surgery, allowing Overbay to reclaim the first base job outright. He hit an acceptable .266/.346/.415 with five doubles and three homers in 28 games between Teixeira’s injury and the All-Star break, which was fine production for an offensively starved team. Overbay carried a .251/.307/.436 (101 wRC+) batting line into the break. He was also playing strong defense, which is pretty much his calling card.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The second half is when things went really south. Because Kevin Youkilis was hurt in addition to Teixeira, the Yankees did not have a proper right-handed platoon partner for Overbay. He was out there everyday, against righties and lefties, and it completely exposed his weakness against southpaws. It also might have worn him down physically. Lyle closed out the month of July by going 10-for-42 (.238) with no walks, three doubles, and a homer (.381 SLG) in 12 games.

August was slightly better — .250/.307/.324 (72 wRC+) in 20 games — though he did have a stretch of 18 straight plate appearances without a hit towards the end of the month. September was just brutal — .163/.250/.245 (36 wRC+) line in 20 games — and by the middle of the month he’d lost his starting job to Mark Reynolds, even sitting against righties. Overbay started just ten of the team’s final 19 games and four of their final eleven games. He’d hit his way out of the lineup.

That .251/.307/.436 (101 wRC+) batting line in the first half was broken down into .272/.330/.485 against righties (224 plate appearances) and .198/.247/.309 (89 plate appearances against lefties). Overbay hit just .220/.272/.314 (58 wRC+) in the second half, including .234/.292/.339 (137 plate appearances) against righties and .171/.194/.229 (36 plate appearances) against lefties. His overall season batting line was .240/.295/.393 (93 wRC+) with a huge platoon split: .258/.316/.430 (103 wRC+) against righties and .190/.232/.284 (35 wRC+) against southpaws.

Overbay is perfectly symbolic of the 2013 Yankees. He was asked to be play everyday and hit near the middle of the order after being cast aside by a contender because they didn’t even have a spot for him on the bench. The only reason he got the job was because the Yankees don’t have any internal solutions for, well, almost anything. Lyle did an admirable job in the first half of the season and had a bunch of big hits, but his performance was below-average overall and well-below-average compared to the typical first baseman. Stepping in after being signed less than a week before the start of the season is not easy, but Overbay was a net negative in 2013 and the very definition of replacement level (0.0 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR).

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Oct
29

What Went Wrong: Michael Pineda

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a disastrous pick-up that still has not yet to pay any dividends.

(Newsday)

(Newsday)

When the season started, I said I would be thrilled if the Yankees got a hundred league average innings out of Michael Pineda in 2013. He had major shoulder surgery last May and was expected back sometime in June, so maybe asking him to throw even that many innings was a bit unrealistic. Labrum tears, even only anterior tears like the one Pineda had, are no joke. They’re career-altering injuries.

Rather than get those 100-ish average innings this summer, the Yankees got absolutely nothing out of Pineda for the second straight season. Literally zero pitches at the big league level. You know what? Forget about pitches. Pineda has not spent even one day on the team’s active roster since being acquired 22 months ago. Not one. The shoulder injury has wiped out his age 23-24 seasons and, more importantly, two years of dirt cheap, pre-arbitration-eligible production.

Unlike last season, Pineda did manage to pitch in official minor league games this summer. He started a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on June 9th, one year, one month, and eight days after surgery. Pineda allowed one unearned run in 4.1 innings that afternoon and eleven days later he surrendered just two runs (one earned) in four innings in his second and final rehab start with Tampa. The team was off for the All-Star break between the two starts, so he threw a simulated game instead.

Pineda moved up to Double-A Trenton and made two more starts, one good (six scoreless innings) and one not so good (four runs in three innings). He was then bumped up to Triple-A Scranton, where he allowed two runs in five innings in his first outing. On July 7th, with his 30-day rehab window about to expire, the Yankees activated Pineda off the 60-day for the first time since he joined the organization and immediately optioned him to Scranton to continue working his way back from surgery.

In five starts following the optional assignment, Pineda allowed eight runs in 18.2 innings — three of the five starts were scoreless — while striking out 19 and walking four. His comeback trail came to an abrupt end on August 2nd, when he exited a game after only two innings due to shoulder stiffness. Tests revealing no structural problems, just the usual inflammation and the like. Pineda was originally expected to be shut down for 7-10 days but instead his season was over. He didn’t even start throwing off flat ground until three weeks later.

All told, Pineda pitched to a 3.32 ERA (~3.75 FIP) with 41 strikeouts (9.1 K/9 and 23.8 K%) and 14 walks (3.1 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%) in 40.2 innings across ten minor league starts. Only three times did he a) complete five innings of work, or b) throw more than 80 pitches in a start. Velocity reports from the team were good, consistently in the low-90s and touching 94-95, but those came from the team. Gotta take that stuff with a grain of salt. Reports (and box scores) indicate Pineda regularly ran out of gas around the 65-70 pitch mark, which isn’t surprising following shoulder surgery, I suppose.

The only positive to come out of Pineda’s season was that he was activated off the DL and optioned to the minors early enough to both push his free agency and arbitration clocks back a year. That’s it. Brian Cashman said Pineda was healthy when the Yankees shut him down in August — they supposedly decided it was best to let him rest after rehabbing and pitching for over a year leading up to that point. He’s not going to pitch in winter ball or anything like that. The next time Pineda will pick up a ball in a competitive environment is when Spring Training opens in February and he’s given an opportunity to win a rotation spot, according to the GM.

There’s a decent chance Pineda will never be an effective big league pitcher again and, frankly, there’s a chance he will never throw a single meaningful pitch in pinstripes as well. It’s entirely possible. Missing two full years due to shoulder surgery (at a crucial development age, remember) is serious stuff. The Yankees had one chance to shoot the Jesus Montero bullet and they fired a total dud. They’ve gotten zero return from the trade. Absolutely nothing. Wrap your head around that. The trade and Pineda specifically have been complete and total disasters. Maybe it’ll look better in a few years, but right now it’s a catastrophic failure that set the team back … I don’t know how much. But it did.

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the poster boy for the Yankees’ recent player development failures.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Man, these last six years and two months did not go according to plan for the Yankees and Joba Chamberlain. Not at all. He was supposed to be the future of the pitching staff, the hard-throwing strikeout machine who chewed up innings and was the New York version of Michael Wacha or Jose Fernandez or whoever is the young pitcher flavor of the week. Things didn’t go according to plan — not even remotely close, really — and Joba’s final season in pinstripes was a nightmare.

After returning from Tommy John surgery in the second half last year, Chamberlain struggled for a few weeks but closed out the season very well, creating some optimism that he would get back to his pre-elbow reconstruction form the further he got away from surgery. He opened 2013 in the seventh inning setup role behind Mariano Rivera and David Robertson but ahead of Shawn Kelley on the reliever depth chart. The Red Sox pounded Joba to three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Opening Day, but he followed by allowing just one run in his final 8.2 innings and nine appearances of the month.

Joba’s season was put on hold on April 27th, when he suffered a right oblique strain in the team’s 23rd game of the season. He apparently suffered the injury while filling in at closer during a game in which Robertson and Rivera were unavailable:

It was a cardiac save, no doubt about it. The oblique injury sidelined him for a month.

By the time Chamberlain returned from the DL, Kelley had begun to establish himself as the team’s go-to seventh inning reliever. Joba got his old job back but in his second appearance following the injury, he turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 lead in the span of two-thirds of an inning against the Indians. A three-run homer by Drew Stubbs did the trick. Boone Logan came in to finish the frame and Joe Girardi relegated Joba to lower leverage work for the time being.

In twelve appearances and eleven innings between the meltdown against the Tribe and the All-Star break — only two of those 12 appearances came with the Yankees leading, both times by seven (!) runs — Chamberlain allowed seven runs on 16 hits (three homers) and five walks. That’s a 5.73 ERA and 5.78 FIP. Opponents hit .333/.407/.542 against him during that time, pretty close to what Mike Trout hit this summer (.323/.432/.557). Joba turned everyone he faced into the best player in the world during a five-week stretch this season. Geez.

That game against the Indians was the last time Girardi used Chamberlain in a truly important situation. He made 20 appearances in the second half and only six times was the game separated by fewer than three runs. Two of those six were extra-inning games, last arm in the bullpen stuff. Only four of those 20 appearances came in games the Yankees were leading — twice by seven runs, once by four runs, and once by three runs. The three-run lead came in Game 160, after the Bombers had been eliminated from postseason contention.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Following the All-Star break, Joba’s average Leverage Index when entering the game was 0.57. That ranked 220th out of 245 relievers to throw at least ten innings in the second half. Girardi didn’t trust him and rightfully so, but for whatever reason, he used Chamberlain in what was then the team’s most important game of the season, on September 19th against the Blue Jays. The Yankees were three games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column and were down two runs in the seventh inning against Toronto. Joba faced three batters and allowed a walk, a single, and a three-run homer. Just like that, the two-run deficit in a hugely important game became a five-run deficit.

That disaster against the Blue Jays wound up being Joba’s second to last appearance with the team. He finished the season with a 4.93 ERA (5.64 FIP) in 42 innings, and he also left an extra bad taste in everyone’s mouth when he told Rivera not to “shush” him while talking to his family during a road trip to Kansas City in May. Joba reportedly apologized and Mo played it off as no big deal, but still. It was not exactly appropriate.

Chamberlain will leave the Yankees via free agency this winter with a 3.85 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 444.2 career innings. I don’t think they’ll bring him back under any circumstances, not even on a minor league contract. At this point, I think it’s clear Joba’s failure to fulfill his so obviously enormous potential has more to do with him not putting in the necessary work — showing up to Spring Training overweight on more than one occasion is evidence of that — than the team jerking him around, but they didn’t exactly help matters either. Both share some of the blame, but after six years, the last four in the same role, most of it falls on the player. Joba will be some other team’s problem now. The disastrous 2013 season was a fitting end to a disappointing tenure in New York.

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Oct
24

What Went Wrong: Mark Teixeira

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with former ironman who has been anything but recently.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira following the 2008 season, part of the appeal was his durability. A quad strain cost him a month in 2007, but otherwise he appeared in at least 145 games in five of his first six seasons. That includes 157 games during his walk year in 2008 and the full 162 games in both 2005 and 2006. He was an ironman.

That held true during Teixeira’s first three years in pinstripes as well, when he played in at least 156 games each season and 470 of 486 possible games from 2009-2011. That changed last season, when a nagging cough and a calf injury limited him to a career-low 123 games. With an offseason of rest and treatment, Teixeira figured to be as good as new come 2013.

When Spring Training opened, everything was fine. Teixeira was healthy and he played in five Grapefruit League games before heading to Arizona to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. During batting practice on March 5th, Teixeira felt some discomfort in what was first reported to be his right forearm but was ultimately his right wrist. He was shut down immediately and pulled from the tournament.

Teixeira went for tests the very next day and they confirmed a strain in the wrist, and injury that would sideline him for 8-10 weeks. He was going to be out of the already depleted Yankees lineup until at least mid-May. It was later revealed to be a tendon sheath problem, the same injury that derailed Jose Bautista and Mark DeRosa for extended periods of time in recent years.

Brian Cashman acknowledged there was only a 70% chance Teixeira would be able to avoid surgery, but things were going well during his rehab. His checkups went as expected and there were no problems reported during his minor league rehab assignment, so he returned to the team on May 31st, just a little later than expected.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Teixeira had an almost immediate impact after returning to the lineup. He hit a grand slam in his fourth game back, a three-run homer in his fifth game back, and then a solo homer in his seventh game back. The power-starved Yankees suddenly had one of their top power hitters in the lineup and it wasn’t a moment too soon.

A rough eight-game slide — 3-for-31 (.097) with nine strikeouts — following the three homers in four games binge, and while that was sucked, the worst came on June 15th, when Teixeira left the game with discomfort in his wrist. Initial tests showed only inflammation but about a week later surgery was recommended. Soon after that, Teixeira went under the knife. His season was over.

In between wrist injuries, Teixeira hit .151/.270/.340 (58 wRC+) with those three homers in 63 plate appearances spread across 15 games. That’s it. On the bright side, the World Baseball Classic paid for Teixeira’s salary during the first DL trip, which saved the team something like $8M. Unfortunately, almost all of that money went to Vernon Wells. Because he was activated off the DL before having surgery, the Yankees were the only hook for his salary during the season DL trip. They did recoup some through insurance, reportedly.

Teixeira’s performance has slipped these last few years, but the Yankees were almost always able to count on him to play every single day. That has changed these last two years, especially now given the uncertainty of a wrist injury. They can sap power for several months even after being medically cleared and returning to the field. For the first time in his career, Teixeira will come to Spring Training as a question mark next season, on top of already being a declining player. That’s not a good combination but it’s all too familiar for the Yankees.

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Oct
22

What Went Wrong: Eduardo Nunez

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

Despite all the optimism about an Opening Day return, Father Time remained undefeated as Derek Jeter was slow to recover from his offseason ankle surgery and unable to start the season with the Yankees. That gave the team the opportunity to do something they’ve seemed eager to do for a long time: play Eduardo Nunez everyday. Jeter’s injury was the perfect chance to play the kid without him having to look over his shoulder.

For about three games, everything went fine. The 26-year-old Nunez went 4-for-10 with a walk in the season-opening series against the Red Sox, but then he took a pitch to biceps in the fourth game and went into a deep 7-for-55 (.127) slump through the end of the month. The bat wasn’t working, but Nunez actually showed off some improved throwing mechanics and went from disaster to merely shaky in the field. Errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but he did go from 30.1 innings per error from 2010-2012 to 62.3 innings per error in April 2013. Like I said, shaky instead of a disaster.

With his batting line sitting at a weak .200/.290/.275 through 95 plate appearances on May 5th, Nunez was pulled from a game after hurting his ribcage, apparently on a swing. An MRI came back clean but rest and treatment didn’t work, so a few days later the Yankees placed their backup shortstop on the DL. On the DL is where he stayed for two months and 57 team games. In typical Yankees fashion, his rehab moved very slowly.

Nunez returned on July 6th and five days later, Derek Jeter came off the DL (for the first time). Luckily for Nunez, the Cap’n hurt himself in his first game back and the shortstop position remained open. Eduardo went 16-for-62 (.258) with three doubles and a triple (.611 OPS) in between his return from the DL and Jeter’s second return from the DL. Nunez sat on the bench for a few games while Jeter played short, but on August 3rd, the shortstop job was his once again.

During the Cap’n’s third DL stint, Nunez went a respectable 23-for-80 (.288) with seven walks (.341 OBP), three doubles, one triple, and one homer (.728 OPS) with four steals in four attempts. Jeter returned for about two weeks in late-August and early-September, but the combination of his need to DH and Alex Rodriguez‘s hamstring and calf problems kept Nunez in the lineup, either at shortstop or third base. Nunez had a very nice .295/.321/.487 batting line in September as the season wound down.

Surprised his helmet stayed on. (Scott Halleran/Getty)

Surprised his helmet stayed on. (Scott Halleran/Getty)

Despite that strong late-season performance, Eduardo’s season batting line sat at an ugly .260/.307/.372 (83 wRC+) with three homers and ten stolen bases (in 13 attempts) in 336 plate appearances. The league average shortstop hit .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+), so Nunez wasn’t far off the mark with the bat. The problem was, as always, his defense. That improvement he showed in April was not evident late in the season, when he was back to booting grounders and airmailing throws.

The various defensive stats — -20.6 UZR, -28 DRS, -12.1 FRAA, and -18 TotalZone — absolutely crush him at shortstop, like worst defensive player in baseball bad, but defensive stats don’t really work in small samples. Nunez only managed 608.1 innings at shortstop this summer, only about 40% of a full season. Going back to silly ol’ errors, he made eight in the final month and a half of the season, roughly one for every 35.3 innings in the field. Right in line with his pre-2013 work.

Both fWAR (-1.4) and bWAR (-1.5) agree Nunez was one of the ten worst position players in baseball this season. That’s out of the 955 players who had at least one plate appearance. If you don’t want to use WAR — I actually don’t, I prefer it for multi-year stuff but not single seasons — then all you need to know is that Nunez was (at best) a league average hitter relative to position this season while being well-below-average defensively. That adds up to a below-average player.

This was Nunez’s Big Chance. Capital letters. Jeter was going to be out for a while and even if he came back at some point, A-Rod and Kevin Youkilis were sure to miss a bunch of time as well. Instead, Nunez did nothing to stand out in regular playing time. He didn’t hit all that much — not even show a sign that there was something more to come, really — and his defense was bad. Nunez seems to have some serious backers in the organization though, so much like Phil Hughes The Starter, I get the sense he will continue to get chances to show he is something he probably isn’t, which in this case is a depth infielder best used in an emergency.

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Oct
18

What Went Wrong: Travis Hafner

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the designated hitter who didn’t hit (and got hurt).

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Ever since Hideki Matsui was allowed to leave and Jorge Posada called it a career, the Yankee have tried to keep their DH spot open and use it as a way to keep their regulars both fresh — “half-days off,” as Joe Girardi calls it — and still in the lineup. With Derek Jeter likely coming back plus Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and soon enough, Robinson Cano) not going anywhere thanks to their long-term contracts, expect the team to continue the rotating DH approach for the foreseeable future.

Last year the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez to serve as the left-handed half of a DH platoon and that worked well enough as long as you’re willing to ignore everything before mid-September. This season the Bombers turned to another veteran lefty masher, this time former Indians slugger Travis Hafner. Unlike Ibanez, Hafner was both injury-prone and unable to play a position, even in an emergency. Still, at $2M guaranteed, it was a relatively low (financial) risk signing.

Early on, it appeared the Yankees had struck DH gold. Hafner mashed out of camp, starting the season with a seven-game hitting streak (9-for-23, .391) that included two mammoth homeruns. Pronk went on to hit four more homers with nearly as many walks (ten) as strikeouts (12) during the rest of April and he carried that performance right into May. On May 14th, through 37 team games, Hafner was hitting .260/.383/.510 (140 wRC+) and was the team’s second best hitter behind Cano.

As if on cue, right when things seemed to be going well for the Yankees, Hafner’s surgically repaired shoulder started barking. He received a cortisone short and missed four days with tendinitis, and he actually hit well immediately after returning, like 6-for-19 (.316) with a double and two homers well. That didn’t last though. Hafner crashed and crashed hard in late-May and never recovered. In 54 team games from May 27th — the start of the home-and-home series with the Mets, in case you were wondering — through July 26th, Pronk hit .154/.218/.265 with four homers, ten walks, and 44 strikeouts.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

With his season batting line sitting at .205/.300/.384 (86 wRC+) through 293 plate appearances, the Yankees placed Hafner on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem on July 27th. The move cleared a roster spot for Jeter. The bum shoulder kept Hafner out right until the final series of the season, when New York activated him only because he was healthy and they were obligated to activate him. He took an 0-for-4 (with two hit-by-pitches) in the final game of the season, his last act in pinstripes.

Including incentives, the Yankees paid Hafner a total of $3.125M for a .202/.301/.378 (86 wRC+) batting line with 12 homers in 299 plate appearances. He was brought in to mash right-handers, but he instead had no platoon split (88 vs. 85 wRC+ in favor of lefties). That’s a bad thing. Pronk did take advantage of the short porch in right field though, hitting .222/.300/.452 (100 wRC+) with eight of his dozen homers at Yankee Stadium. That was pretty much his only redeeming quality, taking advantage of the short porch.

The Yankees and Brian Cashman have made it very clear they prefer hitters who hit for power and are patient at the plate, two traits that Hafner most definitely offered (on paper). It’s hard to ignore how his performance went south immediately after the shoulder problem in May, so perhaps his dreadful showing for most of the summer can be blamed on injury. Then again, no one should have been surprised when Hafner got hurt. Like so many players this season, the Yankees asked Pronk to do more than he was capable of doing at this point in his career and they got burned.

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who finally got a big break before suffering a big break.

(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees made little effort to solidify the catcher position this winter. They were seemingly caught off-guard when Russell Martin took a two-year contract worth $17M from the Pirates in November — Martin was reportedly open to returning to New York on a one-year contract — taking the best all-around catcher in a weak free agent class off the market. Rather they overextend themselves for an imperfect solution (A.J. Pierzynski?), the Yankees decided no solution was best.

Spring Training started with what was supposedly a three-man competition for the two roster spots, but that was never really the case. The Bombers have a knack for holding fake competitions. Austin Romine was always a long shot for the Opening Day roster while, barring injury, Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli were the favorites. A career backup catcher and a guy who was sent to Triple-A to make room for the career backup catcher last year.

None of the team’s in-house catching options stood out offensively in camp — seriously, all one of these guys had to do to win the starting job was swing the bat decently during Grapefruit League play, but no one did it — but Cervelli showed off some seriously improved throwing mechanics, gunning down seven of 14 attempted base-stealers. That was enough to win him the starting catching job on Opening Day. This was how the Yankees sorted out their catching situation coming into a year in which ownership repeatedly called he team “championship-caliber.”

Anyway, Cervelli made the Yankees look very smart for a few weeks. He was one of the team’s best hitters out of the gate, picking up a single and a walk on Opening Day before hitting a homer two games later. During a two-week stretch in the middle of April, Frankie went 10-for-28 (.357) with three doubles, a homer, five walks, and four strikeouts. Cervelli started 16 of the team’s first 22 games and hit .269/.377/.500 (143 wRC+) with three homers in 61 plate appearances, plus he threw out two of four attempted base-stealers. For the first time in his career, he looked like a starting big league catcher.

Then, in the very first inning of the team’s April 26th game against the Blue Jays, Rajai Davis foul tipped a pitch off Cervelli’s unprotected right hand. It was a direct hit, right on the knuckles:

After being looked at by the trainer and trying to talk his way into remaining in the game, Frankie was lifted and sent for tests. X-rays showed a fracture in his hand that required surgery, which was expected to send him to the DL for a minimum of six weeks. Not only had the Yankees lost one of their most productive early-season players at a crucial position, but Cervelli’s big chance to show what he could as a regular catcher was kaput.

Those six weeks turned into at least two months when the Yankees slid Cervelli over to the 60-day DL to clear a roster spot a few days after the injury. He continued his rehab over the next several weeks at the team’s complex in Tampa and progressed to the point where he was swinging a bat and taking batting practice pretty much everyday, which meant an official minor league rehab assignment wasn’t too far away.

Unfortunately, since he’s a Yankee, Cervelli suffered a setback in early-July. It was a stress reaction in his right elbow — the precursor to a stress fracture, so they caught it early — which apparently happened when he changed his throwing motion to compensate for the hand injury. I’m not exactly sure how that happens, but it sounds plausible. Either way, it happened and Cervelli’s #obligatorysetback effectively ended his season. In the unlikely event he got healthy enough to rejoin the team, it wouldn’t have happened until late-September.

On top of all of that, the injury and the setback and losing his chance at a starting catching job, Cervelli was one of 12 players suspended 50 games in early-August for his ties to the South Florida performance-enhancing drug hub Biogenesis. Frankie did not appeal the ban and was officially done for the rest of the year. He suffered both a season-ended injury and a season-ending suspension. Rough. To his credit, Frankie faced the music and admitted he used a banned substance after breaking his foot in Spring Training a few years ago.

All told, Cervelli played in just 17 games this year before the injuries and suspension ended his season. He never got a chance to show if his hot start was something sustainable or if he could even play at an acceptable level as a starting backstop. The Yankees never got a chance to see that either, meaning right now they don’t know if he in the middle of a breakout age 27 season or if he was a small sample size fluke. Given the half-assed catching situation, the team had an opportunity to learn something about Cervelli, about whether he deserved to be in their plans going forward. Instead, he remains an unknown.

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a player whose season was sabotaged by fluky injuries.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

As the Yankees went through last offseason with nary an offensive upgrade, there were two things Yankees fans could count on in 2013. We all knew with damn near certainty that Robinson Cano would be an elite all-around player with high-end production at the plate. It was pretty much a given and Cano delivered.

We also knew Curtis Granderson would hit a ton of dingers and be the team’s primary power source. Ever since revamping his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long in August 2010, Granderson has been one of baseball’s preeminent homer hitters, going deep 40+ times in both 2011 and 2012. Maybe he wouldn’t do that again in 2013 — that’s an frickin’ ton of homers, I have a hard time expecting almost anyone to do that in a given year — but 30+ homers seemed like a lock.

Instead, Granderson’s season was derailed before it even got a chance to start. Five pitches into his very first plate appearance of Spring Training, he took a J.A. Happ fastball to the right forearm and suffered a fracture. The injury was expected to sideline him for three months, so in a sense the Yankees were lucky it happened so early in camp. The first half of that three-month recovery time took place before Opening Day.

On May 14th, after three months on the sidelines and a week’s worth of minor league rehab games, Granderson finally made his season debut for the Yankees. He took an 0-for-4 in the first game but had a hit the next day and three hits the day after that. A few days after that he had three more hits, including a double and a homer. Curtis missed all of Spring Training and it made sense that he would start a little slow, but he was starting to show signs of life and the Yankees desperately needed offense.

Then, just ten days after returning from the DL, Granderson took a Cesar Ramos fastball to his left hand. He stayed in the game to run the bases but was eventually lifted and sent for tests. The result: a fractured pinky and hand and a six-to-eight week recovery timeframe. He didn’t need surgery, but just like that, Curtis was back on the DL and the Yankees were woefully short on power.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

That six-to-eight week recovery time turned into ten weeks for no apparent reason — Granderson was just slow to heal, I suppose. He didn’t return to the team until August 2nd, and in his second game back he hit a two-run homer at spacious Petco Park in San Diego. By then the Yankees were well out of the AL East race and only on the fringes of the wild-card race.

In his first month off the DL, Granderson hit .278/.394/.444 (132 wRC+) with three homers in 109 plate appearances. He wasn’t hitting for the kind of power we’re used to seeing, but he was certainty having an impact at the plate. In his second month off the DL, Curtis hit .177/.233/.375 (60 wRC+) with three homers in 105 plate appearances. Suddenly he wasn’t having an impact. Not coincidentally, the Yankees faded right out of the postseason picture.

Overall, Granderson hit .229/.317/.407 (97 wRC+) with seven homers and eight stolen bases (in ten attempts) in 245 plate appearances around the injuries this year. His power production took a big step back from last season, but there’s really no way to tell if he was still suffering the lingering effects of the injuries — hand/wrist injuries are notorious for hurting a player’s performance even after he’s been cleared medically — or if this was a sign of age-related decline or if he just had 245 substandard plate appearances. Could be all or that or none of that. Who knows?

The Yankees had planned to shift Curtis to left field and install Brett Gardner as their regular center fielder before the season started — they never committed to it and called it an experiment in Spring Training, but it was pretty obvious a change was being made — a plan they implemented when Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He bounced between left field, right field, and DH before Gardner’s oblique injury forced him back into center. I thought Granderson actually look pretty good defensively in the corners. Maybe not above-average, but pretty solid. That was a plus.

“There’s no getting around [it], missing 100 games the year you’re becoming a free agent isn’t great,” said Matt Brown, Granderson’s agent, earlier this month. The 2013 season was disastrous for Granderson due to two unpredictable fluke injuries and the shift to a less valuable defensive position. Maybe the Yankees will be able to bring Curtis back on a one-year pillow contract — his “first choice” is to return to New York, reportedly — but I suspect he’ll wind up with a multi-year contract elsewhere. The Yankees were power-starved this summer and losing Granderson for so much time was a huge reason why. He brings a power element to the team that is damn near impossible to replace these days.

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