Archive for What Went Wrong
To call the play innocent would be a lie, especial after Hideki Matsui‘s broken wrist in 2006. The Yankees were trailing the Twins by two runs in the third inning of the 11th game of the season when Brett Gardner made that sliding (and awkward-looking) catch on a Josh Willingham line drive to end the third inning, a hold-your-breath moment both considering the game situation and the injury factor. Gardner remained in the game though, and in fact he went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two walks on the night. By the end of the game, the sliding catch was an afterthought.
Unfortunately, that was the last time the Yankees and their fans would see Gardner until September. That awkward-looking catch resulted in a right (non-throwing) elbow injury that nearly ended Gardner’s season and eventually required surgery. The timeline of events is lengthy and quite chaotic…
- April 17th: Sliding catch against the Twins.
- April 18th: After being a late scratch due to elbow stiffness, the Yankees placed Gardner on the 15-day DL with a bone bruise and a strain in the right elbow following that night’s game.
- April 28th: Swings a bat for the first time since being placed on the DL.
- May 2nd: Temporarily shut down with pain in the elbow after taking batting practice for a few days.
- May 7-8th: Minor league rehab games with Triple-A Empire State.
- May 10th: Shut down again after re-aggravating the injury during the rehab assignment.
- May 29th: Swings a bat for the first time since the setback.
- June 8th: Minor league rehab game with Low-A Charleston.
- June 9th: Setback #2. Gardner wakes up with pain in his elbow and schedules a visit with Dr. James Andrews as well as Dr. Tim Kremcheck per his agent’s request.
- June 14th: Yankees announce that Gardner received a cortisone shot and platelet-rich plasma therapy on the elbow and will miss 3-4 weeks.
- June 26th: After 69 days on the DL, the Yankees shift Gardner to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for the recently-claimed Danny Farquhar.
- July 6-11th: Swings a bat for the first time since treatment.
- July 15th: Simulated game in Tampa.
- July 19th: Yankees announce that Gardner will have surgery in the coming days after continued soreness in the elbow.
- September 15th: Gardner ran the bases and bunted for the first time since surgery.
- September 24th: Live batting practice for the first time since surgery.
- September 25th: Yankees activate Gardner off the DL for pinch-running and defensive replacement purposes.
- October 2nd: Doctors fully clear Gardner to play without restrictions, meaning at-bats against big league pitchers.
With Gardner on the shelf and Eduardo Nunez demoted to Triple-A, the Yankees lacked speed in a painfully obvious way. The threat of the stolen base was non-existent, and going to first-to-third on a single was a tactic employed by Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and pretty much no one else. The Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners prior to the trade deadline to replace Gardner, a move that worked out even better than I think the team expected.
Although he returned late in the season, Gardner contributed little in September and into the playoffs. He started the final two games of the ALCS in place of Granderson and Nick Swisher, but failed to reach base in eight trips to the plate. In fact, you can argue that Brett’s biggest contribution to the Yankees in 2012 was getting caught stealing in the eighth inning of Game 161 against the Red Sox. That allowed Granderson to leadoff the ninth against the right-handed Andrew Bailey rather than bat with two outs in the eighth against the left-handed Craig Breslow. Granderson singled to open the ninth and Raul Ibanez followed with a game-tying homer, and the rest was history.
All told, Gardner went 10-for-31 (.323) with five walks (.417 OBP) and two stolen bases (four attempts) during the regular season. He appeared in just 16 games (eight starts) and was a non-factor following the initial injury on April 17th. The Yankees received what amounts to league average production from their left fielders during his absence (103 wRC+), but they lost a ton defensively and on the bases. It’s also worth noting that Granderson started the team’s first 71 games (and 89 of the their first 90 games) in center field, something that certainly wouldn’t have happened with a healthy Gardner.
The Yankees dealt with an overwhelming number of injuries this season, more than any team other than the Padres, but Gardner’s injury was the only one that hurt the club in three different ways — offensively, defensively, and on the bases. He’s been a valuable yet often underrated part of the team for the last few years, and this year the Yankees missed him in a big way prior to acquiring Ichiro.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
There is nothing in baseball quite like the optimism of Spring Training. Everyone has a clean slate, every young player is poised to break out, and every old and declining player is poised for a rebound. Alex Rodriguez has been that old and declining player poised for a rebound for three years running now, as the usual stories of him being fully healthy and in great shape and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda ran rampant when camp opened in February.
Fast forward to October, and it was the same old story for A-Rod. His performance continued to slide and he missed considerable time with injury. He sparked some minor controversy along the way and like just about all of teammates, he didn’t hit in the postseason. Because he’s A-Rod, he drew most of the ire and his benching made national headlines. Talks of a possible offseason trade — with the Yankees eating most of the $114M left on his contract — soon surfaced. In other words, it was a typically messy year for the club and their third baseman.
You know what the weirdest thing is? It’s that A-Rod was actually productive this season. No, not by the lofty standards he established earlier in his Hall of Fame career, but compared to his peers. Alex hit .272/.353/.430 overall, a 114 wRC+ that ranked eighth among all third baseman who qualified for the batting title. When Felix Hernandez broke a bone in his hand with an errant pitch on July 24th, A-Rod owned a .276/.358/.449 batting line. Is that the monster hitter he was in his prime? No, of course not. But it was certainly above average and damn good production for a 36-year-old.
That broken bone was essentially the end of his season as an effective hitter. Alex didn’t return to the team until September 3rd and even then he only had a handful of minor league rehab games to his credit. He went 12-for-43 (.279) with three homers in his first eleven games back but quickly faded, going just 17-for-68 (.250) with one extra-base hit (a double) in the team’s final 17 games. His postseason featured a 3-for-25 showing, including an 0-for-18 mark with a dozen strikeouts against right-handers. Joe Girardi lifted him for pinch-hitters and flat out benched him at times as well. To their credit, both Girardi and A-Rod said all the right things and didn’t allow the situation to spiral out of control.
All told, Alex set new single-season career-worsts in strikeout rate (21.9%), extra-base hits (36), ISO (.158), SLG (.430), OPS+ (112). wOBA (.342), wRC+ (114), fWAR( 2.2), and bWAR (2.0). That doesn’t count his partial seasons in 1994 (17 games) and 1995 (48 games), just to be clear. He had stretches of 16 straight games without an extra-base hit (longest of his career), 17 straight games without a homer (third longest), 11 straight games without an RBI (second longest), and 13 straight games without a walk (second longest).
The Yankees like to use the DH spot to rest their older regulars — Girardi calls them half-days off — and Alex certainly saw plenty of time there. He led the team with 38 starts at DH, 13 more than anyone else. His previous career high was a dozen DH starts in 2010, and believe it or not he only had 50 career starts at DH coming into 2012. A-Rod’s defense at the hot corner actually wasn’t bad at all this year, but the Yankees did go to great lengths to keep him (and his bat) physically fresh and didn’t get much of a reward for their effort.
The contract is what it is at this point. There’s no going back in time to change it and there’s not much sense in holding it against Alex. The Yankees made their bed with the contract and are going to end up paying the vast majority of it either way, whether they keep him or trade him. The best case scenario for A-Rod these days is that he continues to be an above-average hitting third baseman whenever he actually is on the field, which these days is something like 100-125 games. Expecting more at this point is foolish. Hope that A-Rod can rebound and become an offensive force has morphed into hope that he can merely avoid falling off the cliff further the next few years.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
While the 2012 season was a massive overall success for Robinson Cano, he was not without his faults this year. Faults that hadn’t previously existed either, so they were completely unexpected. I might be nitpicking here, but Robbie had season-long trouble in two areas that he had previously dominated, and I think they’re worth highlighting.
Runners in Scoring Position
The Yankees as a team suffered through (sometimes extreme) bouts of RISPFAIL, and Cano was public enemy number one. He hit a robust .320/.391/.571 with men on second and/or third from 2010-2011, but slid down to .268/.393/.436 in 2012. That doesn’t seem all that bad and it really isn’t, but prior to his insane 24-for-39 finish to the season, he’d hit a much more pedestrian .239/.374/.373 with runners in scoring position. Robbie was still getting on-base, but ten of his 30 walks in those situations were intentional and he simply wasn’t getting hits. That’s what Cano does, he piles up hits.
I think we can all understand the limited analytical value of RBI, though it was telling that Cano was unable to crack the 100 RBI plateau even though he set career bests in almost every other offensive category. He just didn’t hit when there were ducks on the pond. Instead of plating runner after runner, he was stranding them. Considering that he was the team’s only middle of the order bat to stay healthy all season, Cano’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position was a big negative in 2012.
This one was the real surprise, at least to me. Cano came into the 2012 season as a .308/.347/.496 career hitter, which was broken down into .311/.349/.505 against righties and .300/.343/.475 against lefties. Over the last two seasons, it was .310/.369/.532 against righties and .294/.340/.481 against lefties. He had a platoon split but it was not significant. This season though, Cano hit just .239/.309/.337 against lefties in 269 plate appearances. That’s not the hugest sample size in the world, but it happened nonetheless. Robbie didn’t produce against lefties in 2012.
It’s worth noting that although Cano’s performance against southpaws suffered this season, there was not a huge change in his batted ball performance compared to recent years…
Batted ball data can be tricky because one man’s fly ball is another’s line drive, but a ground ball is a ground ball and the important thing is that Robbie’s ground ball rate didn’t spike. The big jump in line drives means his BABIP should have increased significantly (in theory), but instead it went down. Does that automatically mean his performance against lefties is guaranteed to rebound next season? No, of course not. This is an indication that something other than a deterioration of skills may have been behind the performance slide though, which is good news. Considering his upcoming free agency, Robbie better hope he rebounds against lefties next year. That was a huge part of his value.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
The 2012 season was an overwhelming success for Derek Jeter, who just 18 months ago had been left for baseball dead (by me!) due to his continually declining production. He rebounded and led all of baseball in hits this season, putting up a .316/.362/.429 line in an MLB-leading 740 plate appearances. His 216 hits were three short of the career-high he set more than a decade ago, and for all intents and purposes the superstar-caliber hitter returned after a two-year hiatus.
Unfortunately, Jeter’s season came to a premature end in Game One of the ALCS. He took a step or two to his left to field a ground ball in the 12th inning, but crumbled to the ground before completing the play. The Cap’n stayed down on the ground and eventually had to be carried off the field, almost literally, by Joe Girardi and the trainer. It was a harrowing sight for sure. Jeter is as close to baseball invincible as it gets.
That step in the ALCS was not the start of his ankle problems, however. Jeter first started nursing some kind of left ankle injury in very early-September, though it wasn’t bad enough to keep him off the field. He did limp noticeably while running down the line and in the field, however. Derek came up lame in a mid-September game against the Red Sox after trying to beat out an infield single, hitting the base hard with his left foot. He aggravated what had previously been diagnosed as a bone bruise, and he was limited to DH work for the next four games.
The bone bruise cleared up though, at least we thought. Jeter returned to the field a few days later and made just three DH starts in the final 15 games of the season. Recent reports indicate that he did receive a cortisone shot at some point, but he was hitting — .322/.374/.380 in New York’s final 27 games plus six hits and a walk in the ALDS — so it certainly didn’t appear that the ankle was much of an issue late in the season and into the team’s first round playoff matchup with the Orioles. Jeter looked fine, frankly.
We have no idea if or how the bone bruise contributed to the fracture. Brian Cashman told reporters the night of the injury that he didn’t believe one led to the other, but who knows? Jeter could have been playing with a very tiny (and undetected) fracture that was a non-issue until that one final step for all we know. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Derek had surgery to repair the ankle this past weekend and the recovery time has been estimated at four or five months.
“I believe that Dr. Anderson just put in a more conservative timeframe on it, as explained to me,” said Cashman. “So there’s no new information, nothing seen worse than what our team doctor saw. But in terms of the timeframe, I just think [Anderson] wanted to be more conservative with it, so that’s what we’re going to go with.”
Four or five months means Jeter should be ready just in time for Spring Training. Of course, as a 38-year-old shortstop with a lot of miles on those legs, it’s possible his rehab will take longer than expected. Even if it doesn’t, it’s possible the injury will impact Jeter’s ability to get ready for the season or just move around freely and easily on the field. He was never the rangiest defensive shortstop to start with, so the worst case scenario for this injury would be rendering Derek completely useless in the field. I don’t expect that to happen but it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world.
The Yankees have a serviceable backup plan at shortstop in Eduardo Nunez and they have the entire offseason to monitor Jeter’s rehab and act accordingly. If the healing process takes longer than expected for whatever reason, they’ll have a chance to add an infielder via free agency or trade before the season begins. That part really isn’t a problem. The injury didn’t just bring Jeter’s brilliant season to a premature end though, it also brought his status for next season and ability to continue playing at an elite level into question.
For the last 15 years, the Yankees have always had one indisputable advantage over their opponent regardless of who they were playing. When push came to shove in the late innings, Mariano Rivera was always there to march out of the bullpen and restore order with his humble but brutal effectiveness. On May 3rd of this year, the Yankees lost that advantage.
A few hours before the Yankees were scheduled to play the series opener of a four-game set against the Royals in Kansas City, the team’s 25th game of the season, Rivera took an awkward step shagging fly balls during batting practice and crumbled to the ground on the center field warning track. He was carted off the field and taken for tests while his teammates went on to lose the game, and afterwards Joe Girardi shared the grim news.
“It appears that he has a torn ACL,” said the skipper. “He will obviously go back to New York and be examined by our guys.”
Rivera did go back to New York and he was examined by the Yankees’ doctors, but the diagnosis did not change. He had torn a ligament in his right knee and would require surgery that would all but certainly end his season. If there was any good to come out of the incident, it’s that a pre-surgery exam discovered a blood clot in his right calf. After a round of blood thinners and treatment, Rivera finally had surgery to repair the knee on June 12th, nearly six full weeks after the initial injury.
Prior to the injury, Mo had been pitching like his usual self. He actually blew a save on Opening Day, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks (one intentional) while recording just one out in the walk-off loss to the Rays. The next four weeks were vintage, flawless Rivera. He struck out seven and walked zero in eight scoreless innings across eight appearances, allowing just two singles and a double while going five-for-five in save chances. Rivera made his final appearance of the season on April 30th, saving a 2-1 win over the Orioles. It was the team’s 22nd game of the year.
By all accounts, Mariano has recovered well from the surgery but not well enough to rejoin the team for the stretch drive, which Brian Cashman insisted would not happen the entire time. Rivera threw off flat ground in the Yankee Stadium outfield in August, which created quite a stir. He didn’t start jogging as part of his rehab until just a few weeks ago. Surgery to repair a torn ACL typically requires a six-month recovery period, and there was no bending of the rules for Mo.
Rivera told reporters that he was unclear about his future a few hours after the injury — “At this point, I don’t know. I’ll have to face this first” — but the very next day he stood at his locker and declared that he would return to the team in 2013. “I am coming back,” he said. “Write it down in big letters … I’m not going out like this.” It was a whirlwind 24 hours for fans, who were worried that they had already seen the final pitch of his career.
The Yankees survived the season without their long-time closer and can now look forward to having him back next season, but now more than ever there are questions surrounding Mariano. He’ll turn 43 years old next month and it’s unclear if and how the injury and long layoff will affect him going forward. Rivera has never once been a problem or any kind of significant concern for the Yankees, but there are reasons to be skeptical about his ability to be himself moving forward. After all the great things he’s accomplished in pinstripes, it’s hard to believe Mo landed in the What Went Wrong category this year.
There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.
All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.
Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.
Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.
Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).
A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.
The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention, but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.
The Major League portion of our season review is just about complete, and now it’s time to dig into the minor league system. As is the case every year, some things went right and some things went wrong in the farm system. There were breakout performances, injuries, disappointments, surprises, same kind of stuff we see every season.
What Went Right
First and foremost, it was health on the pitching side. Aside from David Phelps‘ sore shoulder (six weeks on the shelf) and Graham Stoneburner’s neck sprain (two months), all of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects remained on the mound in 2011. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Brett Marshall combined to throw 454 IP and at least 140 IP each. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances each eclipsed the 120 IP plateau, right in line with what they were expected to do before the season. Even relief prospects Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, George Kontos, and Tommy Kahnle were able to log 80+ IP each this summer.
Secondly, the Yankees enjoyed some nice early returns from their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. Mason Williams (.404 wOBA) and Tyler Austin (.478 wOBA) broke out in big ways in the lower minors, while Dante Bichette Jr. (.438 wOBA) and Matt Duran (.395 wOBA) made strong first impressions after being drafted in June. The team’s Latin America program also enjoyed some success with Isaias Tejeda (.443 wOBA), Claudio Custodio (.439 wOBA), and Ravel Santana (.423 wOBA). These guys represent the next wave of prospects behind the crop at Double and Triple-A.
Thirdly, there were the breakouts and surprise performances. Williams was definitely the biggest breakout, but you had under-the-radar players like lefty Jose Quintana (2.96 FIP in 102 IP) force their way into the prospect picture. Ramon Flores (.350 wOBA) led the farm system in walks (61) a 19-year-old. The Almontes – Zoilo (.365 wOBA) and Abe (.331 wOBA) – stayed healthy and put together strong campaigns. The former did so as a switch-hitting outfielder and reached Double-A, putting him on the big league radar. It was the second and third-tier prospects that really stepped up this year, not necessarily the headliners.
What Went Wrong
Obviously, Andrew Brackman‘s return to 2009 form headlines the disappointments. He completely flopped in 13 starts, walking 54 batters and striking out just 41 in 59.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton before shifting to the bullpen and finding himself a bit. After whiffing 34 and walking 21 in 36.2 IP out of the bullpen to finish the minor league season, the Yankees gave him his second straight September call-up and actually used him this time. He walked three and struck out none in 2.1 IP with the big league team. Brackman will be 26 in December, and rather than give him another chance, the Yankees declined his 2012 option and released their 2007 first rounder yesterday.
While the pitchers stayed healthy for the most part, many position players did not. Austin Romine was limited to just 89 games in Double-A due to a concussion and back trouble this summer, though he returned and was able to make his big league debut in September. Slade Heathcott injured his left shoulder again, his third shoulder injury since 2008. J.R. Murphy and Nik Turley were having fine seasons before a pair of fluke injuries ended them prematurely; Murphy fouled a ball of his leg and Turley took a line drive to his pitching hand. David Adams has played in just 29 games since fracturing his ankle last May, as in 2010.
Some players, like Melky Mesa and Jose Ramirez, did not take step forwards in their development. Mesa was unable to build on his standout 2010 season that earned him a 40-man roster spot, reverting back to his hacktastic ways that exposed a weakness against non-fastballs. Gary Sanchez started slow, had to be disciplined for attitude problems, then broke a finger while in the middle of a monster second half. Banuelos and Betances didn’t have the dominant years we expected, but I think it’s hars, h to consider them disappointments this season.
* * *
Overall, the farm system has a pretty average year, but it felt like a down year compared to the massive success of 2010, when seemingly everything went right. The Yankees still boast some star power at the upper levels in Banuelos and Betances, but Jesus Montero will graduate to the big league team next season, and their next real impact position player prospects are Sanchez and Williams in the low minors. Romine, Zoilo, and Corban Joseph are solid players that definitely serve a purpose, but they aren’t stars. The Yankees system definitely took a hit this season, but it’s still in the top half of all the farm systems in baseball.
As we get close to wrapping up our season review, we’re inevitably left a few players that don’t fit into our rather vague What Went Right/What Went Wrong categories. Unsurprisingly, these guys are bit pieces, essentially spare parts on the roster.
After a brief cameo in September 2010, the Yankees handed Nunez their utility infielder’s job out of Spring Training in 2011. The off-day and rain-out heavy April kept Nunez glued to the bench during the season’s first month (just six plate appearances), but he started to get more and playing time as the weather warmed up in May. He had five hits (including two doubles) in his first three starts of the season, but he carried a weak .214/.254/.339 batting line into mid-June, though that covered just 61 plate appearances.
Nunez became a pretty important piece of the Yankees’ puzzle in mid-June, after a calf injury shelved Derek Jeter for more than three weeks. The backup infielder had two hits in each of his first two games as the starting shortstop, and he ended up hitting a robust .339/.381/.525 in 65 plate appearances as the Cap’n's replacement. When Alex Rodriguez hit the shelf with a knee injury before the All-Star break, Nunez was again pressed into everyday duty, this time at third base. He hit .252/.310/.336 in 117 plate appearances while filling in for A-Rod.
All told, Nunez hit .265/.313/.385 in 338 plate appearances, swatting five homers and stealing 22 bases in 28 tries (78.6% success rate). That’s pretty much what you expect from a utility infielder. His defense was atrocious however, specifically his long-time problem with making the throw to first base (from short or third). He committed 20 errors (almost all throwing) in 789.2 defensive innings, which projects to about 37 errors over a full 162-game season. Nunez had his moments, and I figure he was the Yankees’ best backup infielder in quite some time.
Reportedly, the Yankees were holding an open competition for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, though it stood to reason that Cervelli had a leg up over Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and Gus Molina just because he was the incumbent. A broken foot (suffered on a foul ball) delayed the start of his season by a month, but he came back with a bang. In his third game of the season (May 8th), Cervelli swatted a grand slam to dead center off Cody Eppley to turn a 6-5 game into a 10-5 game, helping put an end to an ugly four-losses-in-five-games stretch.
Cervelli played pretty regularly as CC Sabathia‘s personal catcher throughout the summer, and carried a .274/.333/.340 batting line into a late-August series against the Red Sox. After hitting just two homeruns in the first 541 plate appearances of his big league career, Frankie went on a tear and clubbed three homers in the span of eight days as August turned into September. I also remember one ball that looked like a no-doubter off the bat, but was caught at the wall after being knocked down by the rain and wind in that ugly, rainy 11pm ET start game against the Orioles. No idea where it came from, but Frankie was showing some serious pop late in the summer.
Unfortunately, a concussion ended Cervelli’s season in early-September. He was involved in two collisions at the plate on September 8th, giving him his third concussion in the last four seasons. That forced Romine into backup catcher duty, and makes Cervelli a bit of a question mark going into next season. Concussions are nothing to sneeze at, especially several of them in a relatively short period of time. The late power surge raised Frankie’s season batting line to .266/.324/.395 with four homers in 137 plate appearances.
The Pedro Feliciano signing managed to turn into a disaster before Opening Day, which meant Logan was the team’s sole left-handed reliever for the majority in the season. He struggled early in the year, carrying a 5.40 ERA into mid-May. Even worse, lefties were hitting .364/.440/.591 with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in their first 26 plate appearances against him. Logan received some advice from A-Rod during an interleague series in mid-June, at which point same-side batters were still hitting .300/.391/.425 off him.
The pep talk marked a bit of a turn around for Boone, who held lefties to a .234/.286/.484 batting line the rest of the way. He did a much better job of getting them out, but he was giving up far too many extra-base hits. After surrendering just one extra-base hit (a triple) to lefties in 2010, he gave up 12 in 2011 (seven doubles, one triple, four homers). That’s the same number of extra-base hits they had off Sabathia, who faced more than twice as many left-handed batters. All told, Logan finished the season with a solid 3.46 ERA (9.9 K and 2.2 BB/9), but lefty specialists don’t get judged by overall numbers. Left-handers hit .260/.328/.462 in 118 plate appearances against Boone this season, and that’s simply not good enough for the primary lefty on a contending team.
Having a budget surplus is a good thing, except when some of the higher-ups have an itchy trigger finger. After losing out on Cliff Lee and pretty much all significant free agents last winter, the Yankees took an unnecessary plunge into the open market. On January 13th, they agreed to sign former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract worth $35M (surrendering their first round pick to Tampa in the process), and as an added bonus, he was given the ability to opt-out of the contract after each of the first two seasons. The deal was ownership-driven, specifically by Randy Levine.
Soriano was coming off two straight dominant seasons (2.66 FIP in 138 IP), but he had never stayed healthy for three consecutive years in his career. The plan was to make him Mariano Rivera‘s well-paid setup man (the contract is the sixth largest ever given to a reliever in terms of average annual value), forcing David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain into the sixth and seventh innings, moves that were somehow going to make the rotation stronger. The bullpen had been improved, but at an unfavorable cost.
The new setup guy went through Spring Training without a hitch, which is good news. Soriano opened the season with a 1-2-3 inning against the Tigers on Opening Day, but little did we know that it would be nearly four month before he had another clean inning. He pitched again in the team’s fourth game of the season, shrugging off concerns about a lack of velocity. The entered the game with a four-run lead the next day, but allowed the Twins to tie it thanks to three walks and a hit in two-thirds of an inning. Soriano did not speak to reporters after the game, compounding the problem. After hearing from team officials and agent Scott Boras, he apologized the next day.
Soriano went through April by putting men on base and occasionally allowing runs, finishing the month with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) and a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 IP. After allowing just a dozen earned runs for the Rays in 2010, he had already allowed nine in his first month as a Yankee. He also missed a few games with a sore back. Soriano opened May with three straight scoreless outings, but ten days into the month he had to go for a precautionary MRI on his balky right elbow.
The MRI showed nothing more than inflammation, and two days later he was back on the mound. After walking two in a scoreless inning against the Red Sox, Soriano was again shelved due to the elbow, and this time he was expected to miss a week. A bullpen session had to be cut short a few days later, forcing the Yankees to put their setup guy on the DL on May 17th. Another throwing session had to be cut short a week later, and this time it prompted a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Andrews diagnosed the injury as an inflamed elbow ligament, the same one he’d replaced in Soriano’s elbow via Tommy John surgery in 2004. He was expected to miss at least six weeks.
Soriano’s rehab went fine, right on schedule, and he faced hitters for the first time on July 13th. He started a minor league rehab assignment on July 18th, then was officially activated off the disabled list on July 29th. During his absence, a span of 67 team games, Joba went down with an elbow injury of his own while Robertson emerged as a dominant, All-Star caliber setup man, the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting with Soriano.
After a few appearances to get back into the swing of things, Soriano took over seventh inning duties while Robertson continued to pitch the eighth. He retired the first 15 men he faced after coming off the DL, then finished the season on a nice little roll with just two notable hiccups: an extra-innings three run homer to Coco Crisp on August 24th, and another three-run homer to Matt Joyce to turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit on September 27th, his final appearance of the regular season. He allowed just one baserunner in 4.1 IP during the ALDS, but unfortunately that one baserunner was a go-ahead solo homer to Delmon Young in the seventh inning of Game Three.
All told, Soriano threw 39.1 IP during his first season as a Yankee, pitching to a 4.12 ERA and a 3.97 FIP. For comparison’s sake, scrap heap pick-up Cory Wade threw 39.2 IP with a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP for the Yankees in 2011. Soriano’s strikeout rate (8.24 K/9) was identical to what he did in Tampa last season, but his walk (4.12 BB/9) and homerun (0.92 HR/9) rates were considerably worse, nearly double his 2010 rates. His calling card of being unable to stay healthy for three consecutive season remained intact as well.
Soriano will not be exercising his opt-out clause before tonight’s midnight deadline, meaning he will return to the Yankees bullpen in 2012. He figures to again handle the seventh inning since Robertson is entrenched in the eighth, making him an $11M middle reliever. That’s $11M the Yankees could have put towards starting pitching this winter. The bullpen is better with him, there’s no doubt about it, but staying on the field has been a struggle for Soriano throughout his career, and 2011 was no different.
The Yankees have been searching for a quality left-handed reliever since letting Mike Stanton walk after the 2002 season, and that search led them to Pedro Feliciano last offseason. They inked the former Met to a two-year contract worth $8M in mid-December, in part because he a bonafide relief workhorse. He’d proven to be very effective against lefties and unusable against righties, making him the quintessential lefty specialist.
Feliciano, now 35, struck out six batters in his four Spring Training innings, and that was it. We never saw him again. On March 18th, we got word that he was dealing with a dead arm and the team was giving him extra rest as a precaution. Less than two weeks later the dead arm had turned into some kind of triceps problem, a problem that would cause him to open the season on the disabled list. Two days later it was being described as “soreness in a muscle behind his left shoulder,” and the team shut him down for ten days.
The ten days came and went, and doctors had to push Feliciano’s time table back about a week because he wasn’t ready yet. On April 12th, when he finally did get on a mound to start throwing, the southpaw suffered a setback and was sent for an MRI. “He was abused,” said Brian Cashman shortly thereafter, referring to Feliciano’s league leading games pitched totals with the Mets from 2008-2010. The MRI revealed a torn shoulder capsule, the same injury Chien-Ming Wang suffered in mid-2009, but surgery was put off after Dr. James Andrews advised a conservative treatment program that consisted of six-week shoulder strengthening routine. Feliciano was also undergoing platelet-rich plasma treatment as well.
Six weeks after Dr. Andrews’ recommendation, he was ready to start a throwing program on June 1st. Feliciano made 30 soft tosses on that date, and he continued building up to the point where he was ready to being throwing to hitters in early-August. A few weeks later, on August 25th, he made his first rehab appearance, striking out one in one perfect inning for the Rookie Level GCL Yankees. He never made another one. Exactly two weeks after the rehab outing, Feliciano underwent surgery to repair damage to his rotator cuff, a serious procedure that will likely keep him on the shelf for all of 2012.
Between Feliciano, Damaso Marte, and Kei Igawa, the Yankees had three $4M-a-year left-handers on their payroll that were completely unusable in 2011. The reason the Yankees went out and signed Feliciano in the first place was because Marte was recovering from his own shoulder surgery, so they ended up right back where they started, just with less money in their pocket. Cashman’s comments about Feliciano being abused came off as whiny more than anything, because anyone with internet access could go to Baseball-Reference.com and look up how much the guy had pitched the last few years.
The Yankees knew the risk involved with signing an older, heavily worked relief pitcher to a multi-year contract, but they took the chance anyway and got burned again. Early reports from this offseason indicate that the team is again looking to add a reliable left-handed reliever to their bullpen, this time to replace the injured Feliciano who was replacing the injured Marte who was replacing the awful Billy Traber. It’s highly unlikely that Feliciano will ever throw a pitch in pinstripes, rendering him a completely sunk cost.