Archive for What Went Wrong

Oct
15

What Went Wrong: David Phelps

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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 right-hander who didn’t make much (if any) progress in 2013.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

It seems silly after seeing how everything went this season, but the Yankees actually started the year with a nice amount of pitching depth. They had three veteran starters at the front of the rotation (CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte) plus two younger, kinda sorta established types in the fourth and fifth spots (Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes). There was also some optimism Michael Pineda would be able to rejoin the team in the second half.

David Phelps, meanwhile, opened the season in the bullpen as the long man/sixth starter in a round about way after impressing in a swingman role last summer. He was expected to start the season in that same swingman role before being moving into the rotation when Hughes suffered a back injury in Spring Training and had to open the year on the DL. Phelps never did make that first start because the Yankees, in need of a fresh arm, activated Hughes earlier than expected.

In six April relief appearances, Phelps allowed 11 runs (5.29 ERA) and 27 base-runners (1.47 WHIP) in 17 total innings (3.75 FIP). He moved into the rotation in early-May after a triceps problem sent Nova to the DL, and in the rotation is where Phelps stayed for the next two months. Nova’s generally rough first half and Pettitte’s strained trap deserve an assist for that. It was as much a necessity as it was an earned job.

Phelps pitched very well in his first five starts, posting a 3.27 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 33 innings in May. The Mets clobbered him for five runs in just one-third of an inning in his final start of the month, but Phelps rebounded to allow just one total run in his next two starts. Phelps got roughed up in his next four outings, allowing 19 runs (8.41 ERA) and 40 base-runners (1.97 WHIP) in 20.1 innings across his next four starts. Those would be his final four starts of 2013.

On July 6th, the Yankees placed Phelps on the 15-day DL with a forearm strain. An MRI showed no structural damage and he was shut down for ten days, but ten days became ten weeks when Phelps suffered the #obligatorysetback in early-August. The setback was technically a new injury — a second forearm strain in a different spot. There was still no structural damage, thankfully.

The injury was originally expected to end Phelps’ season, but the Yankees were in full-on panic mode late in the year as a postseason berth faded away. He was activated with two weeks to go in the season and made four relief appearances — three good, one not so good — to close out the schedule. Phelps’ overall season performance was right in line with last year in some respects but wildly different in others. To the chart:

Innings ERA FIP BABIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2013 86.2 4.98 3.81 0.321 21.0% 9.3% 42.5% 8.9%
2012 99.2 3.34 4.32 0.258 23.2% 9.2% 42.9% 13.6%

The strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates are very similar between the two years, but Phelps allowed fewer homers while surrendering more base hits overall. With no significant change in his batted ball profile, the 63-point jump in BABIP can likely be attributed to poor overall team defense (especially on the infield) and a simple return to normalcy after last season. A sub-.260 BABIP in nearly 100 innings for a pitcher like Phelps — good stuff and command but not great stuff and command — doesn’t strike me as sustainable (I could be wrong, obviously), so it’s no surprise it jumped in 2013.

The near-5.00 ERA is one reason Phelps was part of the problem this season (hence the “what went wrong” tag), but the bigger concern for me is the injury. In addition to the general scariness of an arm injury (two, really), he missed a ton of time and the Yankees didn’t get much of an opportunity to evaluate him and his place on the team going forward. Did he stink in late-June and early-July because he was hurt? Or did league catch up to him? The answer remains unclear. With no statistical steps forward aside from homer rate and the still unknown lingering effects of the two forearm injuries, this was not a good or encouraging year for Phelps.

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Oct
14

What Went Wrong: Kevin Youkilis

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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 an injury replacement who missed more days than the guy he replaced.

Quite possible the most useful thing Youkilis did in 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Quite possibly the most useful thing Youkilis did in 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Even though it happened five months before Opening Day, Alex Rodriguez‘s left hip injury and eventual surgery left the Yankees scrambling. They had just lost their starting third baseman and a middle of the order bat, two things that are tough to replace even in the dead of winter through free agency. With no obvious internal replacement, the team was left … well, scrambling.

The best available option was a familiar face and former bitter enemy. The Yankees wound up signing former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract worth $12M, and in the process he reportedly declined a two-year, $18M offer from the Indians to reunite with manager Terry Francona. It was a risky move given Youkilis’ history of back problems and declining production (103 wRC+ in 2012).

A monster Spring Training (.280/.339/.800 in 56 plate appearances) and stories of a revamped swing courtesy of hitting coach Kevin Long had pretty much everyone thinking Youkilis was primed to be a big contributor for New York. He was further away from his injuries and the Yankees had success with reclamation project hitters like Eric Chavez in recent years, so it wasn’t all blind faith. Just mostly blind faith.

When the season started, it looked very much like Youkilis had found the fountain of youth. Or at least a way to stave off age-related decline for the time being. He doubled on Opening day, had two hits the next game, doubled again in the third game, then homered in the fourth game. In his first nine games with New York, Youkilis went 14-for-33 (.424) with four doubles, two homers, (.727 SLG), three walks, and two hit-by-pitches (.500 OBP).

Obviously that’s not something you’d expect any player to sustain over a full season, but any fear Youkilis was just a washed up ex-Red Sox crony brought in for name value had started to be assuaged. Then, just a week later, Youkilis was sidelined with back stiffness. He missed a week before returning to the lineup at first base, and in his first game back, he slide into the bag on a defensive play and re-injured himself. The official diagnosis was a lumbar strain and it was much more severe this time around.

The play that re-injured Youkilis' back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

The play that re-injured Youkilis’ back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Youkilis needed an epidural even though his MRI came back clean. He spent a month on the DL before returning in late-May, the same time as Mark Teixeira. Youkilis went a weak 6-for-41 (.146) with 13 strikeouts (28.3%) in eleven games after coming back before, yet again, his back started barking. Another lumbar strain landed him on the DL on June 14th, but just four days later the Yankees announced he needed season-ending surgery to correct whatever needed to be corrected. There was always a small chance Youkilis would get healthy in time to rejoin the team in late September and the postseason, but that never happened. Both the getting healthy part and the postseason part.

All told, Youkilis played in only 28 games and received 118 plate appearances this past season. A-Rod, the man he replaced, batted 181 times in 44 games after returning from hip surgery in August. David Adams even managed more games (43) and plate appearances (153) thank Youkilis after coming up from the minors in mid-May to serve as what amounted to the replacement for the replacement. For their $12 investment, the Yankees got a .219/.305/.343 (78 wRC+) batting line and an awful lot of medical bills out of Youkilis.

As I wrote in What Went Wrong: Injuries, it would have been surprising if Youkilis didn’t land on the DL at some point this season. Backs very rarely get better — ask David Wells or Randy Johnson, for example — at best they get more manageable. Youkilis had two back-related DL stints as well as several day-to-day type problems from 2010-2013, so the surgery was a long time coming. It seemed inevitable and the Yankees were left holding the cards when the time came. The team was in desperation mode after A-Rod’s injury and they wound up wasting a huge chunk of change for very, very little return.

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Oct
10

What Went Wrong: Vernon Wells

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The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees’ ill-advised outfield pickup.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees traded for Vernon Wells at the end of Spring Training and paid him $11.5M this past season. On purpose. Despite a .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) batting line in 791 plate appearances for the Angels from 2011-2012, someone in the front office looked at Wells and thought he would be a good use of a roster spot and tens of millions of dollars. Desperation makes people do weird, weird things.

Injuries had taken their told on the Yankees even before Opening Day arrived. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had offseason surgeries delay the starts of their seasons while Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in camp. Add in Nick Swisher leaving as a free agent, and the Bombers lost five of their six best hitters from last season without importing adequate replacements. That’s how you wind up trading for a guy like Vernon Wells. Desperation.

Amazingly, Wells actually made the Yankees look good for the first few weeks of the year. He hit .300/.366/.544 (148 wRC+) with six homeruns in April and legitimately belonged in the middle of the order. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. Wells was an everyday player and a big reason why the club exceeded expectations for the first 50 games or so. It looked like the pro scouting department had found another gem like Eric Chavez or Bartolo Colon, the guy with something left after everyone wrote him off.

But, of course, it didn’t last. I mean, it really didn’t last. There was no gradual decline, no steady slide back to Earth. Vernon just fell right off in the middle of May and stopped hitting all together. He just … stopped. Rollover grounder to short after rollover grounder to short, that’s what followed. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Healthy players — maybe Wells was nursing an injury, who knows? — just don’t stop hitting like that. Here, look:

2012 Vernon OBP ISO wOBA

That’s what it looks like when a hitter goes from really really good to really really bad in a heartbeat. Wells hit a homer on May 15th to raise his season batting line to .301/.357/.538 in 157 plate appearances, but his next 157 plate appearances? How about a .185/.204/.225 batting line. It didn’t stop there though. After hitting that homer on May 15th — his tenth of the season — Wells put up a .199/.243/.253 line with one (!) homer in his final 301 plate appearances of the year. One homer! It wasn’t even a real homer either. Look at this thing:

Hit Tracker says that homer traveled 344 ft. and would have been out in exactly one ballpark — Yankee Stadium. Vernon hit one dinger in his final 300 or so plate appearances and it bounced off the top of the wall of the shortest right field porch in baseball. Unbelievable.

Relegated to platoon status by the end of the season (even that was generous on Joe Girardi‘s part), Wells hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) with eleven homers in 458 plate appearances this summer. That includes a .269/.318/.379 (89 wRC+) line in 198 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, so he didn’t even have much platoon value. On top of all of that, Wells was downright Andruw Jones-esque in the outfield, with little range and half-hearted retrieval skills. The total package was sub-replacement level (-0.2 bWAR and -0.8 fWAR) for the low price of $11.5M.

Big league teams know more about stuff than fans ever will, but every so often a move is made that is just so head-scratching and obviously bad. The Yankees asked Wells to buck two years of terrible performance and paid good money to do it. I guess the good news is that because of the way the money in the trade is structured, Vernon will count $0 against the luxury tax in 2014. The team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars though, so it’s not like he’s free. Wells was awful for two straight years before coming to New York and he made it three straight in pinstripes. I just don’t know why anyone expected otherwise.

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Oct
07

What Went Wrong: Injuries

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The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review the year that was, starting with the Yankees’ significant injuries. They pretty much defined the season.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Every single team deals with injuries every single year. It’s impossible to make it through the full 162-game season without losing players to injury, either nagging or severe. Injuries come with the territory and the Yankees had a lot of them in 2013. They didn’t use a franchise record 56 players out of the kindness of their heart — they lost roughly 1,400 man games to injury and used the Major League DL a ridiculous (and MLB-high) 28 times this season. If you wore pinstripes this summer, chances are you got hurt at one point or another.

For the most part, we can fit every injury into one of two categories: predictable and unpredictable. A player rolls his ankle running through first base? Unpredictable. Not necessarily surprising, it happens, but not something you’d expect. But a pitcher with a history of arm problems blowing out his elbow? Yeah that’s predictable. Some guys are so injury prone it’s a matter of when they’ll get hurt, not if. You want to think this is the year they’ll stay healthy — remember when being a full-time DH was supposed to keep Nick Johnson healthy? — but it very rarely is.

The Yankees had a ton of injuries this year, some more devastating than others. We’re not going to focus on the nagging day-to-day stuff or quick 15-day DL stints in this post. We’re going to look at the long-term injuries — both the predictable and unpredictable ones — meaning the guys who missed most or all of the regular season. I’m leaving Alex Rodriguez (left hip) out of this because we knew coming into the year he would be out until at least the All-Star break. I want to focus on the players everyone expected (or hoped) would be on the roster come Opening Day.

Predictable Injury: Derek Jeter
It all started last September, when Jeter fouled several pitches off his left ankle/foot and played through a bone bruise late in the season. In Game One of the ALCS, the ankle finally gave out and fractured. The Cap’n had surgery in October and the initial timetable had him on track for Spring Training and the start of the season. He’s Derek Jeter and he works harder than everyone, so he’ll make it back in time, right? Wrong.

Jeter’s progress in camp was deliberate as he nursed the ankle, and it wasn’t until mid-March that he appeared in his first Grapefruit League game. He played five exhibition games before needing a cortisone shot in the ankle and being ruled out for Opening Day. Here’s the timeline that followed:

  • March 31st: Yankees place Jeter on 15-day DL.
  • April 18th: Yankees announced Jeter suffered a setback — a second (and smaller) fracture in the ankle. He was not expected to return until the All-Star break.
  • April 27th: Jeter is transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vidal Nuno.
  • July 11th: Yankees activate Jeter off DL. He goes 1-for-4 in his first game back but suffers a calf strain running out a ground ball.
  • July 23rd: Jeter is retroactively placed on the 15-day DL after the calf doesn’t respond to rest and treatment.
  • July 28th: Yankees activate Jeter. He plays five games before the calf starts acting up again.
  • August 5th: Jeter is retroactively placed on the 15-day DL (again) as rest and treatment doesn’t do the trick (again).
  • August 26th: Yankees activate Jeter. He plays 12 games before his surgically-repaired left ankle becomes sore.
  • September 11th: For the fourth time, Jeter is placed on the 15-day DL. The moved officially ends his season. Three days later, the Yankees transferred him to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for David Phelps.

Four DL trips for what amounts to three different leg injuries. Jeter appeared in only 17 of the team’s 162 games and looked pretty much nothing like himself, with little impact at the plate and close to zero mobility in the field. He was never the rangiest defender, but it was especially bad this season. When a 38-year-old shortstop — Jeter turned 39 in June — has a major ankle surgery, you have to expect there to be some delays and complications during the rehab process, even when he has a full offseason to rest.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Unpredictable Injury: Mark Teixeira
Up until last season, Teixeira was an iron man. He was good for 155+ games played a year every year, but various injuries (cough, wrist, calf) limited him to only 123 games in 2012. With the cough behind him and an offseason of rest for the calf, Teixeira was expected to be as good as new for this season. Then, while with Team USA preparing for the World Baseball Classic, he felt some discomfort in his right wrist and had to be shut down.

The soreness turned out to be a tendon sheath injury, which can be pretty severe if not allowed to heal properly. Teixeira and the Yankees opted for rehab because there was no reason not to — surgery, which was always a realistic possibility, would have ended his season anyway, so might as well try the rehab route first. He did the rest and rehab thing before rejoining the team on the final day of May. Teixeira appeared in 15 games before the wrist started acting up again. On July 3rd, he had the season-ending surgery. No one saw the wrist problem, which was described as a “wear-and-tear” injury, coming.

Predictable Injury: Kevin Youkilis
When it became official that A-Rod needed his hip surgery in early-December, the Yankees had to find a replacement everyday third baseman. The free agent market had little to offer, especially once Eric Chavez decided to move closer to home in Arizona. New York signed Youkilis to a one-year, $12M contract to replace Rodriguez despite his history of back problems.

Not counting four separate day-to-day bouts with spasms from 2008-2010, Youkilis spent time on the DL with back problems in both 2011 and 2012. That doesn’t include some nagging day-to-day stuff between the DL stints either. Sure enough, 17 games in the season, Youkilis’ back started barking. He missed a handful of games with tightness before aggravating the injury on a feet-first slide into first base on a defensive play. That sent him to the DL with a bulging disc. Youkilis returned in late-May and managed to play another eleven games before needing season-ending surgery to repair the damaged disc. For their $12M investment, the Yankees received 118 mostly ineffective plate appearances. Backs don’t get better, then just get worse.

Unpredictable Injuries: Curtis Granderson
Aside from Jeter and A-Rod having surgery in the offseason, the parade of injuries started in the first home game of Spring Training. On the fifth pitch of his first Grapefruit League at-bat, Granderson took a J.A. Happ fastball to the right forearm. Just like that, the Yankees had lost their top power hitter for three months with a broken arm. They’re lucky (in a sense) that the injury occurred so early in Spring Training and Granderson was able to return in mid-May, not much later in the season.

After returning from the DL in the team’s 39th game of the season, Granderson appeared in eight games before another errant pitch sent him to the sidelines. This time it was Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos who did the deed. The pitch broke Granderson’s left hand and would keep him out ten weeks even though the initial diagnosis called for a six-to-eight week recovery time. Curtis returned to the team in early-August and wound up playing in only 61 of the club’s 162 games. Hit-by-pitch injuries are the definition of unpredictable injuries.

(John Munson/Star-Ledger)

Pineda didn’t do much more than this in 2013. (John Munson/Star-Ledger)

Predictable Injury: Michael Pineda
Thanks to last May’s labrum surgery, Pineda was expected to miss the start of the 2013 season but be a factor in the second half. He started an official minor league rehab assignment in early-June and exhausted the full 30 days before the Yankees determined he was not big league ready. They optioned Pineda to Triple-A Scranton in early-July and less than a month later, he came down with shoulder tightness. Although tests came back clean, the tightness all but assured we wouldn’t see him in pinstripes for the second straight season. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman said during his end-of-season press conference they shut Pineda down as a healthy player after more than a year of rehab and pitching just to get him rest. Given the nature of the injury, it was no surprise the right-hander was slow to return and ultimately a non-factor in 2013.

Unpredictable Injury: Frankie Cervelli
Thanks to some throwing improvement in Spring Training and the fact that Chris Stewart can’t hit, Cervelli took over as the team’s everyday catcher early in the season. He started 16 of the team’s first 22 games, but in that 16th start, Rajai Davis fouled off a pitch that hit Frankie square in his exposed right hand. His suffered a fracture and was expected to miss at least six weeks … until he suffered a stress reaction in his elbow during rehab. The stress reaction supposedly stemmed from a change in his throwing motion to compensate for the hand injury. Cervelli was suspended 50-games for his ties to Biogenesis in August but that really didn’t matter; the elbow injury had ended his season anyway. Catching is brutal, but a broken hand on a foul tip is still not something you can see coming.

Predictable Injury: Travis Hafner
You name it, and chances are it sent Hafner to the DL at some point in recent years. Most notably, he missed almost the entire 2008 season due to right shoulder surgery. The same shoulder started barking this summer, first in mid-May and then again mid-July. It’s probably not a coincidence his production completely tanked after the first bout with soreness. Hafner was placed on the DL in late-July and missed the rest of the season, for all intents and purposes. He was activated for the last few games of the season but only played in one. Pronk visited the DL seven times from 2008-2012, so it’s no surprise he wound up there in 2013.

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As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of pitchers. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren
After losing the long man competition to David Phelps in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Warren got his big league shot when both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the DL in late-June. He made a spot start against the White Sox and got absolutely pounded, surrendering six runs on eight hits (two homers, one double, five singles) in 2.1 innings. Warren walked two and struck out one. He spent the rest of the regular season back in Triple-A but did get recalled when rosters expanded in September, though he did not appear in a game.

Chad Qualls
Acquired from the Phillies in early-July, the 34-year-old Qualls appeared in eight games with the Yankees. He allowed five runs and ten hits in 7.1 innings with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two), though he did generate a bunch of ground balls (51.9%). His most notable moment in pinstripes was probably retiring the only two men he faced (Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo) on July 13th, keeping the deficit at three and allowing the Yankees to mount a late-innings comeback. The Yankees traded Qualls to the Pirates for Casey McGehee at the deadline.

Justin Thomas
Plucked off waivers from the Red Sox early-May, the 28-year-old Thomas spent the rest of the summer in Triple-A before getting the call when rosters expanded in September. The left-hander appeared in four games, allowing three runs in three innings. To his credit, Thomas did retire six of seven left-handed batters he faced with New York (two strikeouts). The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear room on the roster for David Aardsma late in the season, and Thomas has since moved on as a minor league free agent.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

D.J. Mitchell
Mitchell, 25, also lost the long man competition to Phelps in camp. He went down to Triple-A for a few weeks before resurfacing when the Yankees needed an arm in early-May and then again in mid-July. He made four appearances total — two in each big league stint — and allow two runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Like Qualls, he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two) but generated a healthy number of grounders (57.9%). Mitchell was traded to the Mariners as part of the Ichiro Suzuki and spent the rest of the year in the minors.

Ryota Igarashi
Igarashi, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in late-May and managed to appear in two games with the Yankees. He allowed one run in one inning against the Mets on June 8th and three runs in two innings against the Blue Jays on August 12th. Both stints in the big leagues were very temporary, as he was sent down right away in favor of a fresh arm. It’s worth noting that Igarashi was a monster down in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) with 13.50 K/9 (34.4 K%) in 36.2 innings as the team’s closer. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster in August and he signed a new deal with a team in Japan earlier this offseason.

David Aardsma
The Yankees signed the 30-year-old Aardsma to a one-year, $500k contract in late-February knowing he was unlikely to contribute much this year since he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander suffered a setback in June which delayed his rehab, but he progressed far enough that the team adding him to the active roster in late-September. He appeared in just one game before the end of the season, allowing a solo homer in an inning of work. After the season the Yankees exercised Aardsma’s $500k option for 2013 and will have the former Mariners closer in the bullpen to open next season.

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As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of position players. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Dewayne Wise
He was sparingly used during his three months on the roster, but the 34-year-old Wise hit .262/.286/.492 (106 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances for the Yankees. He also retired both batters he faced while pitching in a blowout loss. The team originally recalled him to fill Brett Gardner‘s roster spot before cutting him loose following the Ichiro Suzuki trade. Wise went 9-for-18 with a double, a triple, and three homers during an eight-game stretch in late-June/early-July, but his greatest contribution to the club — besides the bunt that turned the season around — was his non-catch against Indians in late-June.

Chris Dickerson
Had the 30-year-old Dickerson not been on the minor league DL early in the season, chances are he would have been recalled to take Gardner’s spot instead of Wise. He instead had to wait until rosters expanded in September, and he went 4-for-14 (.286) with two homers and three steals in his limited playing time. Most of his action came as a defensive replacement in the late innings. I like Dickerson more than most and think he can be a useful left-handed platoon outfielder who also provides speed and defense, but it’s obvious the Yankees aren’t interested in giving him an opportunity. For shame.

(Elsa/Getty)

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 25, was the team’s only true rookie position player this year. He came up when rosters expanded in September and only appeared in three games — one as a pinch-runner and two as a late-innings replacement in blowouts. Mesa did pick up his first career hit and RBI in his first big league plate appearance, singling on a ground ball back up the middle. His most notable play was a base-running blunder, when he missed the bag while rounding third base on an Alex Rodriguez single in extra-innings against the Athletics. Mesa would have scored the game-winning run, but alas. Rookie mistake.

Darnell McDonald
The Yankees got a little cute prior to the All-Star break, claimed the right-handed hitting McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox before heading up to Fenway for a four-game set. The Sox were set to throw three left-handed starters in the four games, so the 34-year-old figured to see some playing time against his former team. McDonald instead received just four plate appearances, made outs in all of them, and collided with Curtis Granderson in center field. A run scored on the play. Embedded Red Sox? Embedded Red Sox.

Ramiro Pena
Rakin’ Ramiro was on the roster for less than a week this season. The Yankees called him up after Alex Rodriguez had his hand broken by Felix Hernandez in late-July, but he was sent back down following the Casey McGehee trade a few days later. In between, the 27-year-old infielder singled once in four plate appearances and got into two other games as a pinch-runner. Pena became a minor league free agent after the season, ending his seven-year stint with the organization.

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Nov
29

Season Review: The Front Office

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(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Just as with the manager and coaching staff, it’s difficult to evaluate a front office from the outside. Yes we can see the moves they make and speculate on moves they didn’t make, but we’ll never know the inner workings and all of the factors involved. Things like opportunity cost and the club’s internal evaluation of players are beyond our scope. Remember, a move can both make perfect sense at the time and be laughably bad in hindsight.

The Yankees started the year by making a series of front office changes in January, most notably hiring former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assignment scout and promoting pro scouting director Billy Eppler to assistant GM. I’m a fan of having multiple voices in the front office and Hendry is well-regarded within the game, so I liked his hiring just as I liked the Kevin Towers hiring back in 2010. The Eppler promotion was significant because for the first time since Brian Cashman took over as GM, an obvious line of succession had been established. Eppler was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels GM job last winter and now appears to be in line to replace Cashman down the road.

On the field, the Yankees made a number of great, good, okay, poor, and disastrous moves like every other team. Signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract was a masterstroke while the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade went sour in less than three months. Low-cost, one-year stopgap solutions like Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Clay Rapada worked out well while others like Chris Stewart and Andruw Jones did not. Minor league free agent signings like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise contributed while midseason pickups like Chad Qualls, Casey McGehee, and Steve Pearce were non-factors. Derek Lowe worked out fine after being plucked off the scrap heap in August.

The Yankees made one significant midseason move, acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners for two young arms. The 39-year-old agreed to a set of conditions prior to joining the team, specifically that he would move over to left field, bat towards the bottom of the order, and sit against tough lefties. Ichiro performed so well (.322/.340/.454, 114 wRC+) that he forced his way into regular playing time and a higher spot in the lineup by the end of the season. Even Ichiro’s biggest detractors (i.e. me) have to admit he gave the team a big shot in the arm down the stretch.

At the same time, I do feel the Yankees dragged their fit a bit making in-season upgrades. Obviously Brett Gardner‘s three setbacks contributed to that, but the team also didn’t act swiftly when it was obvious bullpen help was needed. Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson went down with injuries in May, then a few weeks later Cory Wade completely imploded. The only help they brought in before the deadline was Qualls, who predictably stunk. It appeared as though the Yankees were counting on Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery to shore up the bullpen, whether that was actually the case or not.

The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, and the front office has major work to do these next 15 months or so to make that happen. The Pineda trade was, by far, the team’s most long-term move this year and so far the worst case scenario has played out. The right-hander’s ability to rebound following shoulder surgery may be the biggest factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. The Kuroda signing and Ichiro trade worked out marvelously this year, but fair or not, the performance of the front office going forward will be heavily influenced by the results of that swap with the Mariners.

Categories : Front Office
Comments (53)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Evaluating a manager and his coaching staff is a very difficult thing for outsiders. The vast majority of their work takes place behind the scenes, so we’re left looking for clues in places they might not be. That pitcher learned a changeup? Great job by the pitching coach! That hitter is only hitting .250 when he usually hits .280? Fire the hitting coach! We have no idea what clues we dig up are actually attributable to the coaching staff, so we end up guessing.

Because of that, I don’t want to review Joe Girardi and his coaching staff in our typical “What Went Right/What Went Wrong” format. This review is almost entirely subjective and we can’t really pin anything (good or bad) on the coaching staff specifically. We know Curtis Granderson essentially revived his career after working with Kevin Long two summers ago, but having a specific example like that is very rare. Instead, we’ll have to take a broader approach.

Joe Girardi
I think 2012 was Girardi’s worst year as Yankees’ manager. Every manager makes questionable in-game moves during the season, but I felt Girardi made more this year than he had in any year since 2008, and it all started in the very first inning on Opening Day with the intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez. That still bugs me.

Girardi has long been considered a strong bullpen manager given his ability to spread the workload around and squeeze water out of scrap heap rocks, but this year he leaned very heavily on Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. Working Soriano hard wasn’t a huge deal because he was expected to leave after the season, but Logan made more appearances in 2012 (80) than any other reliever under Girardi, including his time with the Marlins. Robertson appeared in 65 games despite missing a month with an oblique injury. Part of it was a lack of alternatives (blame the front office for that) and the tight race, but this was something that started before the Yankees blew their ten-game lead.

Girardi also had two notable meltdowns (for lack of a better term), lashing out at a fan following a loss in Chicago and then getting into a shouting match with Joel Sherman after calling him into his office. Maybe my conduct standards are too high, but that kind of stuff is a major no-no in my book. It stems from pure frustration and there is zero good to come from it. Girardi didn’t have a bad year as manager, he did a fine job guiding the team despite an overwhelming about of injuries, but I feel that he’s had better years in the past.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Larry Rothschild & Kevin Long
When the Yankees hired Rothschild as pitching coach two years ago, he came to the club with a reputation of improving both strikeout and walk rates. That is exactly what has happened overall, and we can see it specifically with someone like CC Sabathia (strikeouts, walks). Obviously the personnel has changed over the last few years, but the Yankees managed to get productive seasons from scrap heap pickups like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last year while getting better than expected production from Hiroki Kuroda and even Andy Pettitte this year. We don’t know how much of a role Rothschild played in all of this, but the team’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations the last two years.

Long, on the other hand, came under big-time scrutiny following the club’s offensively-inept postseason showing and Mark Teixeira‘s continued decline from elite all-around hitter to pull-happy, one-dimensional slugger. At same time, he remade Granderson and helped Robinson Cano go from good to great. Long does preach pulling the ball for power and apparently that contributed to the team’s poor postseason, but the roster overall is built around guys who pull the ball for power. Outside of Cano and Derek Jeter (and later on, Ichiro Suzuki), the Yankees lacked hitters who could hit to the opposite field. Like Rothschild, we don’t know how much a role Long has played in all of this, and I’m not even convinced preaching power these days is a bad thing given the decline in offense around the league.

Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Rob Thomson & Mick Kelleher
Not really much to add here. Thomson, the third base coach, does have a knack for being a little overly-aggressive with his sends in tight games while at other times he will hold guys who would have clearly been safe, but every third base coach does that. The Yankees have had an above-average stolen base success rate in recent years (77-79%), so I guess Kelleher is doing a fine job of reading moves and relaying that info over at first base. Other than that, we have very little basis for which to judge these guys on. Despite the whole “everyone should be fired because there are obviously better coaches available!” mentality than can fester following an embarrassing playoff loss, all indications are the entire staff will return fully intact next year.

Categories : Coaching Staff
Comments (51)
Nov
28

What Went Wrong: Yankee Stadium

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(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

The current version of Yankee Stadium is now four years old, so we have enough data to definitively say something like “the place gives up homers like crazy.” It’s no longer a small sample size fluke, like we argued back in April 2009. We also have enough data to say that the place can be pretty lifeless at times, and that seemed to be especially prevalent this season. The place is only four years old, so it’s a problem.

Attendance
For the most part, attendance over the last eight years has held pretty steady, and therein lies the problem. There should have been a spike when the new building opened, just like there was when the old place closed…

Total Per Game Capacity MLB Rank
2012 3,542,406 43,733 87.0% 6th
2011 3,653,680 45,107 89.7% 7th
2010 3,765,807 46,491 88.9% 7th
2009 3,674,495 45,364 86.7% 8th
2008 4,298,655 53,069 92.3% 5th
2007 4,271,083 52,729 91.7% 7th
2006 4,243,780 52,392 91.2% 5th
2005 4,090,692 50,502 87.9% 5th

There was a spike after the 2009 World Series, but for the most part the new place was selling seats at a similar rate to the old building (before the closing spike). I doubt the Yankees expected that. The problem was especially noticeable in the postseason this year, when there were swaths of empty seats in the club’s five home playoff games. Was the lack of postseason attendance overstated? Definitely, but the fact that there were empty seats to talk about in the first place is a problem.

Obviously we can point to the ticket prices as a culprit for the less than stellar attendance, but I don’t believe it’s that simple. Maybe it is, I just happen to think there are more factors in play. The economy has sucked the last few years, parking prices are ridiculous, stuff like that contributes as well. I never have trouble finding $20-ish dollar tickets to a typical regular season game, but I’m one person, one data point. The Yankees have won plenty in recent years, so performance isn’t an issue.

Long story short, the Yankees aren’t going to drop ticket prices because they’re still selling a ton of tickets. The prices are set at what people are willing to pay (not team payroll, contrary to what many seem to believe), and they won’t drop until people stop paying. Given the size of the city and surrounding areas in addition to the high tourist traffic, I wouldn’t count on it happening anytime soon.

Atmosphere
This one is entirely subjective, though I suppose you could bring a decibel meter to the park like they did with CitiField. Good luck finding historical data for the Old Stadium to use as a comparison. Besides, crowd noise isn’t the be-all, end-all of stadium atmosphere.

Anyway, has the atmosphere of the old Stadium been overstated in comparison to the new place? Absolutely. Trust me, that place wasn’t exactly rockin’ all the time like you’ll be led to believe. It was definitely more energetic than the current Stadium though, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. Why is this? Tons of reasons, really. The building itself doesn’t provide great acoustics, but that’s not a “the Yankees screwed up!” thing, that’s a “the City of New York says you can’t build like that anymore” thing. Is the security crew too harsh? Maybe, I’ve never had an issue though. There are a lot of factors beyond the team control here.

One part of the stadium experience the Yankees do control but have largely ignored in recent years is the quality of the between-innings entertainment. How long has the Cap Game been going on? The Subway Race? I mean, the YMCA-dancing grounds crew was neat the first time and literally never again after that. I have yet to see anyone say “oh great, it’s Cotton Eye Joey!” during a game. Monument Park as well, it’s hidden way in center field and can’t really be displayed, even if you’re sitting up in the grandstand and just looking around.

I also think the Yankees have generally done a poor job of cultivating fans in recent years. They don’t have any caravan events, don’t let kids run the bases after games, don’t do any of these super-fan-friendly things other teams around the league do. Yeah I can get to the park early and shake hands with a fringe roster player at the ticket gate every so often but who cares? Baseball is more of a generational sport than any other, dads and sons and grandkids all enjoy it together. I don’t think they’ve done enough to reel in the younger fans out there, the ones who are still impressionable.

This turned into more of a rant than I expected, so my bad. I think the new Stadium is pretty awesome in general, I love the nice wide corridors and the restrooms that are actually properly sized and all sorts of other stuff. The food choices could be a little better, but that’s terribly important to me personally. The postseason attendance and atmosphere problems this year were very noticeable though, and they really helped make some of the other deficiencies at the new building stand out. It’s never going to be the old Stadium in part because what we remember of the old Stadium has been romanticized and no longer jibes with reality, but I still feel it’s lacking compared to other state of the art facilities.

Attendance data via ESPN.

Categories : Yankee Stadium
Comments (116)
Nov
28

What Went Wrong: Farm System

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(Danny Wild/MiLB.com)

Two years ago, the Yankees enjoyed a brilliant season by the farm system in which almost everything went right and nothing went wrong. Jesus Montero took a step forward to become a star prospect, Manny Banuelos dazzled, Gary Sanchez debuted, the college arm trio of Adam Warren, David Phelps, and D.J. Mitchell excelled, and even the enigmatic Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman had strong seasons. As a result, the team’s farm system ranked fifth and ninth in baseball by Baseball America and Keith Law, respectively.

Last season was more of a normal year in the minors, with the usual number of breakouts and breakdowns, injuries and surprises. After the season, the team’s system was ranked tenth and 13th by Law and Baseball America, respectively. Those rankings were released after the Yankees traded Montero as well, who was easily their best prospect. They had a high-end of a middle of the road system, if that makes sense. This year though, things down on the farm were definitely far from normal. An awful lot more went wrong than right.

Injuries
When Baseball America published their list of the team’s top ten prospects earlier this month, five (!) of the top eight prospects were players who missed significant time with injury this year. Top prospect Mason Williams dislocated his shoulder diving for a ball and had season-ending surgery in early-August. Number two prospect Slade Heathcott didn’t appear in his first game until mid-June because he was recovering from his second left shoulder surgery in as many years. Number seven prospect Angelo Gumbs tore his left elbow ligament on a swing and was done in late-June.

(Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos)

The two most significant minor league injuries came on the pitching side. Preseason top prospect Manny Banuelos missed a few starts in April with a sore back, then landed on the DL with a bone bruise in his elbow in mid-May. That kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the year, and early last month he finally went under the knife and had Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to miss all of 2013. Preseason number two pitching prospect Jose Campos, part of the Montero trade, came down with elbow inflammation and didn’t pitch after late-April. Last we heard, the club was “hopeful” he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training. The duo combined for eleven starts this year, six by Banuelos in Triple-A and five by Campos in Low-A.

Lesser prospects like Austin Romine (back), Zoilo Almonte (hamstring), Abe Almonte (hamstring), Corban Joseph (shoulder), David Adams (neck), Zach Arneson (shoulder), Jeremy Bleich (shoulder), Dan Camarena (shoulder), Dan Burawa (ribs), Greg Bird (back), Jordan Cote (shoulder), and Matt Tracy (hamstring) all missed time with injury this year. The team’s two Rule 5 Draft picks — righty Brad Meyers (shoulder) and lefty Cesar Cabral (elbow) — missed the entire season with injury. Meyers has already been returned to the Nationals while Cabral will get another look in Spring Training. The injury problem got so bad that first round pick Ty Hensley was found to have an “abnormality” in his pitching shoulder prior to signing. It’s not even a real injury, something in his shoulder just isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It hasn’t stopped him from pitching yet though, so fingers crossed.

Underperformance
If you were one of the lucky Yankees farmhands who didn’t get hurt this summer, there’s a pretty good chance you didn’t play up to expectations. Betances, my preseason number three prospect, pitched to a 6.44 ERA with nearly as many walks (99) as strikeouts (124) in 131.1 innings. He pitched so poorly that he had to be demoted from Triple-A to Double-A. Preseason number seven prospect Dante Bichette Jr., last year’s first rounder, followed up his Rookie Level Gulf Coast League MVP effort by hitting .248/.322/.331 with three (!) homers in 522 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston. Those are just the big names.

(Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos)

Warren made his big league debut with a disastrous start against the White Sox, but otherwise spent most of the year in Triple-A and pitched almost exactly as he had a year ago. Repeating a level and not improving is underperformance in my book, especially for a guy who spent four years at a major college program. Ravel Santana returned from his brutal ankle injury to hit just .216/.304/.289 with 68 strikeouts in 247 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island. Former first rounder Cito Culver (.215/.321/.283) continued to look like the overdraft he was labeled way back on draft day.

Of the top ten players on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, only Sanchez managed to avoid the injury bug and live up to expectations. The other nine either got hurt or underperformed. Add in the spending restrictions implemented by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that limited the team’s ability to import high-end talent, and the Yankees’ farm system took a massive hit this year. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, the lack of progress from the team’s top prospects may be crippling in a few years.

* * *

Of course, it wasn’t all bad down on the farm this year. Tyler Austin hit a combined .322/.400/.559 across four levels and emerged as one of the game’s best pure hitting prospects. Williams was excellent before hurting his shoulder and Heathcott starred after returning from his injury, plus Sanchez and Ramon Flores continued to progress as well. Mark Montgomery appears to be the team’s next great homegrown reliever, Cuban veteran Ronnie Mustelier came out of nowhere to hit his way into the big league conversation, and lower-ceiling arms like Chase Whitley and Brett Marshall are now on the cusp of the big leagues.

Barring trades and all that usual offseason stuff, the Yankees still boast four surefire top 100 prospects in Williams, Heathcott, Sanchez, and Austin. We can quibble about the exact order but it doesn’t really matter, they are four of the 100 best — really the 75-80 best — prospective big leaguers in the game. There are a ton of question marks after that though, and the club lacks impact talent at the upper levels of the farm system. When the various organizational rankings come out in the spring, the Yankees will probably rank somewhere in the 15-20 range among all farm systems, buoyed by the four top 100 guys. There isn’t much impact beyond those four though.

Categories : Minors
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