What Went Wrong: Derek Jeter

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.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

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.

Derek JeterThe 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.

email

What Went Wrong: Jayson Nix

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.

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

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.

What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez

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.

At least he’s entertaining, right?

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.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

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.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty)
(Streeter Lecka/Getty)

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.

* * *

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.

What Went Wrong: Ichiro Suzuki

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.

What Went Wrong: Austin Romine

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.

What Went Wrong: Lyle Overbay

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).

What Went Wrong: Michael Pineda

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.