Friday, February 27, 2015

Yankees enjoy upbeat first week of Spring Training

The New York Yankees are one week into Spring Training as of Friday and while there is incessant chatter about Alex Rodriguez’s return to the diamond (or more like everything he does off it), there are many other on-the-field happenings that has the club upbeat.

While it’s early, the pitching staff has been building up arm strength, with some, facing live batters. The word is that everyone is feeling healthy and showing no signs of early camp soreness {knocking on wood}.

Nathan Eovaldi seems to be the furthest along, mostly since he was in Tampa well before the others arrived. Of course, this makes sense with Eovaldi working on his ancillary pitches in an effort to make the most out of his power fastball.

CC Sabathia threw his latest bullpen session Friday and George King III of the New York Post reported that the big lefty’s surgically repaired right knee is responding well and that he’ll face live hitters sometime next week.

“No problems. I am still working on the cutter and changeup,’’ said Sabathia. “I definitely like where I am at. I am not feeling pain and moving forward. I feel great.’’

The Yankees other worrisome rotation member, simply from an injury perspective, is Masahiro Tanaka who tossed a bullpen session Thursday. He also hurled 41 pitches and told The LoHud Yankees Blog’s Chad Jennings he felt stronger than his last time on the mound.

“I think I was throwing with more force than the last bullpen,” Tanaka said.

Michael Pineda and Chris Capuano have also been readying themselves for spring games and so far all is quiet on the health front from them. Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are working as starters early on with the Yankees planning on using a six-man rotation for Spring Training and will potentially do the same in the early parts of the season when they go through a period of 30 games in 31 days.

Girardi as a whole is happy with the first week from his pitching staff. This, via Jennings:

“When I look at things today, I think the pitchers are a lot further along," Girardi said. "I was very pleased with what I saw from Tanaka. I’ve been very pleased as far as what I’ve seen from our pitchers as a whole."

Rodriguez took fielding drills at first base using his regular infielder’s mitt in a group with Mark Teixeira Friday. The notion of Rodriguez getting starts might say something about the Yankees lack of confidence in Teixeira staying completely healthy, or simply having A-Rod be somewhat familiar with the role for emergency purposes. A-Rod will get at-bats as the designated hitter against lefties for certain, and Garrett Jones is on board to spell Teixeira (if needed) when a righty is on the mound.

Teixeira told the media that he was not going to try to beat the shift by becoming a slap-hitter, which no one is really asking him to do.

One of the cool things that happens in spring camp is we get a look at some of the future players making their way through the system. Luis Severino and Aaron Judge faced off during batting practice Friday and Jennings caught some video of it. Severino has been getting raves from the media and the coaching staff thus far and Judge is simply enormous.



Finally, one injury did creep up on the Bombers Friday when the club reported via Twitter that utility infielder Brendan Ryan suffered a mild back strain and is off the field for the next five days. Ryan is hoping to maintain his roster spot this spring, with Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder trying to supplant the light-hitting slick fielder. Losing Ryan for an extended period is not a big worry for the Yanks, especially this early in camp.

One week in the books and so far all is well in Tampa for the Yankees. Keep your fingers crossed that it stays that way.

Photo of CC Sabathia courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Betances, Miller or both for Yankees' closer?

The New York Yankees have a situation that many teams would kill for; two incredibly capable relievers vying for the ninth-inning job. Right-hander Dellin Betances and lefty Andrew Miller entered camp as the close-out options for manager Joe Girardi.

Girardi has stated that he would like to settle the issue before Spring Training ends, but also said he felt comfortable utilizing both in the role depending on the lineup situation of the opposition. It’s believed that Girardi would prefer to have a set eighth and ninth-inning man, and is completely fine with either Betances or Miller being the answer.

What is the better option for the Yankees?

Betances rose to the setup man role in dominating fashion last season. His amazing rookie campaign was a testament to waiting out a prospect and giving him a chance to find his role. Betances was once a promising starter in the organization, only to have control issues derail his progress. The Yankees made a last ditch effort to squeeze something out of Betances and converted him to a reliever. It has turned out to be a fantastic move.

Betances, who turns 27 in March, tossed 90 innings in 2014, striking out 135 batters along the way. He dominated hitters holding them to a .149 batting average. He racked up 22 holds and his rate stats were excellent – 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) and a 0.78 WHIP.

Projection models for Betances show a bit of a regression, but considering how exemplary he was, the Yankees will take these metrics.



The Steamer and ZiPs models via FanGraphs seem to believe that Betances will lose some of the control he exhibited last season and revert back to some to his underlying issues of the past. With little data to go on, this is understandable and his performance early on will signify if this is going to be an issue going forward or if he has completely turned the corner in this area.

Miller, 29, who saw time with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles last season, also blossomed into one of the best setup men in the league in 2014. In 62.1 innings Miller grabbed 22 holds, struck out 103 batters and posted a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) and 0.80 WHIP.

Much like Betances, Miller was once a starter who was not getting the results expected of him. The Red Sox turned him into a lefty specialist in 2012 and he’s become progressively dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate.

As with Betances, the prognosis for Miller is a bit of a decline in the ratio stats and much of the same in the counting stats for 2015.



The models are also hesitant to suggest that Miller’s control is completely resolved, as it was with Betances. That said, after watching both of the players last season, it did not seem like they were having many, if any, problems with the strike zone. Until proven otherwise, it's safe to believe 2014 was not a fluke for either hurler.

Should the Yankees receive anything between the numbers Betances and Miller produced in 2014, and the projections for 2015, they’ll have no issues with whoever they choose to be the closer. Since neither pitcher has actually filled the roll on a regular basis, Girardi’s tactic of seeing if one or the other fits better during the spring makes absolute sense.

It is also incredibly intriguing to think of a two-headed monster closing out games for the Yanks. Girardi has the benefit of having a righty/lefty combination that can handle batters from both sides of the plate.

So when there is an all righty or a righty/lefty/righty situation at the plate, Betances makes sense. Likewise, when all lefties are due up or it’s lefty/righty/lefty Miller could be the call. Further, if the opposing manager tries to make a pinch-hitting move, it doesn’t really affect the pitcher. This situation can arise in the eighth inning just as easily, again giving Girardi the same options to bring in the best choice for the situation and leaving the other to close the game out.

So long as both players remain healthy, and as effective as they were last season, there is hardly a wrong way to go here. The bullpen as a whole is strong so it does not seem that either Miller or Betances will be required to log significant innings this season making them all the more dependable.

The Yankees are in a great position with Betances and Miller cleaning up the eighth and ninth innings, no matter which way the manager decides to draw it up.

Projections via FanGraphs.

Photo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yankees’ Mark Teixeira changes diet, not approach at plate

New York Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira had an answer this offseason for his inability to beat the shift when he’s hitting left-handed – go on a gluten-free diet, gain 13 pounds of muscle and trim 5 percent off his body fat. Teixeira vowed in an interview with reporters Wednesday to simply try and pull balls into the seats and the right field gap for doubles, or take a walk instead of changing his approach at the plate.

Some tweets from MLB.com's Bryan Hoch:

More on slap-hitting via ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews:

His work ethic over the winter is certainly commendable. Simply having Teixeira healthy could provide valuable production for the Yankees’ offense. He sees himself as a 30 home run, 100 RBI hitter and with 600-plus plate appearances he could approach those numbers.

The comment that he didn’t want to be a slap-hitter is an inane one coming from a professional baseball player who just added profound strength in the offseason. What about just using the whole field and if a pitch is on the outside part of the plate try to drive it to the left field gap?

A mindset to never try to go away with pitches that are on the outside part of the strike zone seems short-sighted. It also provides the opposition with a simple game plan when he’s at the plate. Away, away and away.

Teixeira seems to believe that he’ll be able to lay off pitches he can’t pull, and wait for mistakes either over the heart of the plate or on the inner half where he can try to launch them into the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. That’s all well and good but when you’ve laid your plan out there and show it won’t change, how many mistakes in does he think he’ll get?

Further, he apparently doesn’t understand that if he demonstrates that he can handle the pitch on the outside corner with some authority from his newly muscled body, that it might bring more pitches to the inner half. No one, at least not here, is asking Teixeira to drop down bunts or lazily slap at pitches to drop over the third baseman’s head. He can still look for pitches to pull into the seats, but he could just as easily go the other way with authority with pitches thrown on the outside part of the plate.

Teixeira proclaims he wants “to be himself” at the plate. He has not been who the Yankees thought they were signing since his first year in New York back in 2009 when he slashed .292/.383/.565 with 43 doubles, 39 homers and 122 RBI. His last 30/100 season was in 2011.

Of course, some of that is due to health, but a good part of it is also Teixeira’s stubbornness when it comes to his approach at the plate. In his 2015 outlook here, it was written that it was imperative Teixeira try something different with his approach and hopefully work with the new hitting coaches to figure out how to best tackle the shift.

His answer to fly everything over the shift is one that has failure written all over it. It is what he has tried to do from 2012-14; to the tune of a .229/.320/.431 line in just under 1,100 plate appearances. Teixeira hit 49 home runs in that time, so we are talking 25 homers at best for 550 plate appearances in a season. Aside from health, the likelihood of Teixeira generating a 30/100 season seems unreasonable without a new line of thinking.

Taking the steps to become healthier showed a true desire to be better on Teixeira’s part and it's great to see, but believing that it alone will allow him to elevate more pitches (ones he likely won’t see many of) into the seats is not grasping the big picture.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Offensive success begins with Yankees’ Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees produced the third worst offense in the American League last season, but Brett Gardner was not a part of the problem, at least not until August. Gardner enjoyed one of his better overall statistical seasons in the Bronx and solidified his place atop the Yankees batting order with an amazing first four months.

For 2015 to be an offensive success for the Yankees, Gardner will have to replicate his production from the first two-thirds of 2014, not fall apart and hope that the middle of the lineup turns things around so he can score some runs.

Gardner had an extremely productive four months in 2014, but faltered down the stretch. He hammered a career-high 17 home runs, and racked up 50 extra-base hits (25 doubles, eight triples). His overall slash line (.257/.327/.422) would have been better but for a lengthy 40-game slump (.176/.226/.301) at the end of the season. Gardner had an .831 OPS before the slump began.

We found out last November that Gardner’s slide might have been attributed to a sports hernia that finally caught up to him. Gardner had offseason surgery to repair the issue and expects to be fine as Spring Training begins for position players in a couple of days.

Gardner stole just 21 bases in 2014 (caught five times), so for the second straight season he failed to reach 25 SB. For a leadoff man with his speed it’s critical that Gardner becomes more aggressive on the bases much like he was from 2010-11 when he swiped 47 and 49 bases in successive seasons. That is especially true if the middle of the Yankees lineup performs similarly to last season.

In the field, Gardner was more or less his typical self, covering his ground in left field with Jacoby Ellsbury manning center field. Gardner recorded a 2.9 UZR/150 (3.3 in LF where he played most of his innings) which is well below his career numbers. Some of this has to do with Ellsbury in center as Gardner is not required to cover as much ground as he did in other seasons when he played left field. The rest of it has to do with Gardner’s weak arm.

Assuming that Gardner is fully healed and suffers no ill effects from his surgery, the Yankees expect him to be atop the batting order on a regular basis. The Yankees need to have some constants in place and it seems that having Gardner bat first makes the most sense. While Ellsbury is an option, Gardner thrives in the leadoff role and Ellsbury is easier to move around the batting order.

For projections, Gardner is seen to be set for a slight downturn in performance.



There is a surprisingly large spread in the number of plate appearances between the two. It’s possible ZiPS feels the injury will affect Gardner, while Steamer does not. He’s just 31, so expecting a 100+ plate appearance drop off seems dramatic if simply using age as a barometer.

The rate stats are more or less in line with 2014, but each model sees a drop in homers and unfortunately does not project Gardner to run anymore than last season. Of course, the models are simply calculations based on his previous performance and comparable players from the past, and Gardner has complete control of his running game which again is essential to this offense.

It’s not especially reasonable to expect Gardner to generate a full season OPS of .831 which he held as late as Aug. 4 last season (his full season high is .762), and there is also little reason to believe that the slump was anymore than injury related. With that in mind, Gardner has the ability to continue to do some damage at the top of the lineup this season.

A .265/.340/.415 line with 50+ extra-base hits is not out of the range of possibilities given a full season of plate appearances. This is a drop better than the models project and well below the great run he was having through the beginning of last August. There is still plenty of upside in Gardner’s abilities at the plate.

Gardner’s importance to the lineup cannot be understated. The Yankees offensive success starts at the top with Gardner leading the way. Further, much like Ellsbury, Gardner might need to be at the top of his game for an entire season to make up for the possibility that the aging middle of the lineup cannot turn things around as hoped. If Gardner was to take a significant downturn of this own, the Yankees would be in serious trouble.

Projections courtesy of FanGraphs.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Yankees lose Yoan Moncada sweepstakes, angering parts of fanbase

The New York Yankees are ALWAYS expected to outbid their opponents for the best of the best players. Well, George Steinbrenner has been dead for several years now and it’s time some Yankees fans understand those days are long gone.

Moncada, a 19-year-old Cuban prospect, is loved by every scouting analyst there is. He projects to be a second or third baseman, but could land in the outfield as well. He’s built like a rock and just cost the Boston Red Sox $63 million ($31.5 million bonus and $31.5 million in international spending penalties). The deal was first reported by Jesse Sanchez via Twitter.

Five seconds after the news broke, Yankees fans took to Twitter and lambasted general manager Brian Cashman and ownership for failing to secure Moncada, who the club tried out three separate times.

Before passing judgment on Yankees' brass, there are some items to reflect on here.
  • Moncada might have liked what he saw with the Red Sox more than the Yankees despite the money.
  • Maybe the Yankees just couldn’t wrap their heads around $63 million for a player who has never seen an MLB pitch.
  • The Yanks are content with Rob Refsnyder as the heir apparent at second base, and have Chase Headley manning third for the next four seasons (at a cost of $52 million).
  • The Yankees feel they've got some thump in their system already in guys like Aaron Judge.
  • The Yankees simply had a ceiling. They offered $25 million and would have gone as far as $27 million according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post via Twitter.
Jon Harper of the New York Daily News has a quote from Cashman which sums up the Yankees’ stance nicely.
It’s been an offseason where the Yankees made a conscious effort to turn the corner where it relates to spending their money. The club made many smaller investments this past July in international players, 10 of which fall into the top-30 of the class according to Baseball America. The team declined bidding on high profile free agents like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester and hope to make the most of first round and supplement round draft picks this June because of it.

The Yankees will spend money of course, but not in such a way that they feel deters them from the overall strategy. Like or not, this is the new Yankees' methodology.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Yankees’ weekend news wrap: All about pitching

The New York Yankees saw their hurlers on the mound for the first time this spring over the weekend and as is the case around the league, optimism reigns supreme.

CC Sabathia


The big southpaw checked into camp at 305 pounds according to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York. Sabathia told Matthews that he feels more comfortable in this weight zone, than he did when he came to came 30 pounds lighter last season.

Sabathia made just eight starts in 2014 and is coming off arthroscopic right knee surgery. He went 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA (4.78 FIP), 1.48 WHIP and 48 K in 46 innings. After also turning in a disappointing 2013 season (14 W, 4.78 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 175 K in 211 IP), Sabathia’s road to a turnaround begins with his health and ends with his ability to get batters out without a high velocity fastball.

Sabathia says he’s been picking the brain of former Yankee great Andy Pettitte regarding how to make the transition from a dominant fastball to relying on offspeed offerings. Sabathia tossed 25 pitches in his first bullpen session Saturday, a mix of fastballs and changeups. The changeup used to be one of Sabathia’s best pitches and if he can determine the best velocity difference between the fastball and change both pitches could become more effective again.

Masahiro Tanaka


Tanaka tossed his second bullpen of the spring and felt no ill effects on his right elbow. Tanaka is pitching with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. He threw 35 pitches, mixing in more offspeed offerings Sunday according to LoHud Yankees Blog’s Chad Jennings. Jennings provided a video with Tanaka and others throwing below. Enjoy the popping of fastballs as you read on.



New lefties get some work in


Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson were also on the hill and seen in the video. Manager Joe Girardi is excited to have such excellent relief depth, particularly from lefties.

“We’ve got a couple of lefties we can go to, when you start thinking about it,” Girardi said. “There’s some quality left-handers here. I think it really gives you options as a manager. And I like that.”

Nathan Eovaldi


Perhaps one of the Yankees’ bigger wild cards not related to injury is Eovaldi. The 25-year-old right-hander has a big-time fastball but his ancillary pitches are not strong enough for the fastball to be completely effective.

Eovaldi has been in camp for some time working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild on a split-finger fastball as well as his offspeed offerings in an effort to induce more strikeouts.

Eovaldi threw live batting practice Sunday in which he worked on keeping his fastball up in the strike zone while moving the splitter into different locations around the plate. Girardi was encouraged by Eovaldi’s performance according to Jennings.

“He looked good,” Girardi said. “He threw a batting practice session, worked on some things, worked on some different ideas with his split. I was very encouraged by it. Arm strength is good. It’s still very early in camp, but it was positive.”

The rotation comes with some serious question marks concerning health, but as of now, everyone is feeling well and looking to get stronger before games begin in a couple of weeks. As Girardi says, it’s still early, but optimism is abound.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Joe Girardi: Despite uncertainties Yankees “have a chance to be really good”

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi held his Spring Training opening press conference Friday and the theme was uncertainty with a measure of confidence. The issues that surround the club are numerous; what’s the physical health of the team, can the middle of the lineup produce, how will the new faces mesh with the old, who will close games, what’s the batting order, can Alex Rodriguez be useful and on and on. Despite all those questions, Girardi believes things can come together and the Yankees can erase two seasons of missing the playoffs.

Girardi, who has guided his teams through a slew of injuries the last two seasons, might be up for his biggest test as a manager of the Yankees. He’ll have to navigate through the spring with plenty of ambiguity across the diamond, likely right through the end of the session, before he’s got a firm grip of what’s ahead for this team.

Girardi led with the rotation, feeling that “ironing it out” ranks at the top of importance early on in camp. In part that has to do with the health of CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, but also with a new face in Nathan Eovaldi and having Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers come to camp as starters. If either of those guys supplant Chris Capuano it would necessitate more questions about the bullpen structure.

Girardi will then need to determine how he deploys Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. He stressed that he has confidence in either to close out games saying “both are more than capable,” but it sounded like he was more interested in having set roles in the bullpen. He also iterated that a decision on who is best suited for closing might not be made until the early part of the regular season depending on what he sees late in spring.

Girardi mentioned that the middle of the order was “key” to the success of the club on offense. Getting healthy and bounce back campaigns from Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are imperative. He believes that Brian McCann can be much better after having a full season to get acclimated to a new pitching staff and the American League.

While Girardi was smart to say he did not know what to expect from Rodriguez from an offensive production standpoint, he did suggest that he’ll give the 39-year-old designated hitter plenty of at-bats this spring, including the possibility of sending him to minor league camp when an option.

Girardi was cautiously optimistic when expressing what he expects from the club in the win/loss column.

“You come into Spring Training every year with a goal [to win], and to be the best that you can be, as a club," Girardi said. “There are a lot things that we do need to iron out. Probably more than I can remember.”

Being without Derek Jeter will be something different for Girardi, but he has the utmost confidence in the fact that the club is filled with a bunch of veterans who can come together and lead the rest of the group. He doesn’t believe one person needs to take over as the team leader. Leadership can form within factions of the offense, the bullpen, the starters, infielders, outfielders etc.

The line of questioning appropriately went back to health and the IFs pertaining to performance quite often and Girardi said that should the two come together on a positive note the club will be more than competitive in the American League East. The Yankees are not the only club with question marks; it’s how the team handles them that makes the difference in winning.

“The one thing that you realize over a 162-game schedule is there [are] a lot of things that have to go right for you to be the winner at the end,” Girardi said. “You look to see how you measure up, but the only way to know how you truly measure up is to do it on the field.”

Girardi’s confidence in his players and himself for that matter is unwavering. Throughout the discussion he found the positive (of course he has to) but there is no sugar-coating from Girardi. He understands it’s going to be a tough haul, and that the club needs almost all the dominoes to fall the right way to reach the playoffs.

From the outset of the press conference, the theme of uncertainty was met with the belief there can be success. It is Spring Training after all. Everyone feels good about their outlook and Girardi was no different.

“We have a chance to be really good,” Girardi said.

Here are links to the YES Network’s recordings of the conference. Part 1, 2 and 3.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Friday, February 20, 2015

A performance-only outlook for Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez

How about a 2015 outlook for the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez without diving into the numerous narratives?

No talk of whether he wronged baseball, mistreated his teammates, lied to the fans, made empty apologies or lives with a tarnished legacy. If you want that nonsense, you have landed on the wrong page. We’re going to look at Rodriguez’s chances of helping – or hurting – the Yankees on the field in 2015.

Let's begin with some facts.

Fact: It has been almost 17 months since Rodriguez stepped into a Major League batter’s box.
Fact: Rodriguez will turn 40 years old July 27.
Fact: Rodriguez has played in 265 games and accumulated 992 plate appearances since 2011.
Fact: Rodriguez hit .244/.348/.423 in 2013 across 181 plate appearances.
Fact: The last time A-Rod recorded an OPS over .800 was in 2011.

These truths tell the story of a man who has an uphill battle ahead of him when it comes to hitting a baseball. If you’ll recall, he did not look very good in the 2012 playoffs and those metrics from 2013 are not exactly eye-popping and come with the “small sample size” caveat.

Rodriguez is going to have to overcome some obstacles in order to get to 400+ plate appearances, and to come close to recording an .800 OPS which most teams would like from their designated hitter. First, no matter what kind of drills he’s been doing over the past year and a half, they cannot replicate game activity. He’s yet to see a 98 mph fastball or a wicked splitter when it counts since September 2013. Second, he's got two bad hips which must have some impact on his ability to hit a baseball. Third, he's getting older and older.

The player’s who have had success as a DH (and slightly used infielder as Rodriguez might be) at this age had one thing in common – they went into those seasons having success and health the years before – and in some cases very good health and success. Rodriguez cannot claim that and therein lays the biggest problem.

Checking in on Rodriguez’s last few seasons it is plain to see that he’s been unable to stay on the field, but when he played he was fairly productive.

Year Age G PA R 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 ★ 35 99 428 67 21 16 62 .276 .362 .461 .823 119
2012 36 122 529 74 17 18 57 .272 .353 .430 .783 111
2013 37 44 181 21 7 7 19 .244 .348 .423 .771 113
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2015.

Here’s the $61 million question – can Rodriguez find any of this type of performance after the time off and stay on the field after multiple hip surgeries in addition to fighting the aging process?

It’s simple to say no, and it is the safer bet. The other side of that coin is to suggest that he might have an easier time staying in the lineup, by being off the field. Putting him at third base does no service to the Yankees other than giving Chase Headley or Mark Teixeira a day off. If the club wants to do that they’ll have bonafide solutions for each position, so keeping Rodriguez away from using a glove is one way to help him succeed with his bat.

Further, if he is simply concentrating on hitting, it could help get rid of the rust he’s accumulated quicker in that he’ll have more time to get swings in and study film. Expect the Yankees to get Rodriguez as many plate appearances as possible during Spring Training because they truly need solid production when he’s in the lineup.

What do the projection models say?



ZiPS is higher on Rodriguez than Steamer (both via FanGraphs), but neither is actually high on his chances of being very helpful for the Yanks. It’s not surprising – or it shouldn’t be. At 39, and after averaging 331 plate appearances in the three seasons before missing an entire year, would you expect anyone or any model to predict much more?

There are some fans who still feel that there is something left in Rodriguez’s bat. It seems the Yankees have more hope than belief in that viewpoint. The money on the table is essentially what is keeping Rodriguez’s name on the roster at this time. The long and short of it is that no one will know anything until he actually steps into the batter's box this spring.

The Yankees will give Rodriguez every opportunity to prove there is something left in the tank and will be certainly be grateful if he is productive. However, it’s uncertain what will happen if Rodriguez is barely treading water come midseason. Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yankees' Chris Capuano: Rotation filler

The New York Yankees signed Chris Capuano to a one-year, $5 million contract to be the fifth starter for at least the beginning of the 2015 season. The role of the fifth starter is a tenuous one; falter and there is always a guy ready to take the spot. In Capuano’s case there are several.

Only a select few teams anticipate much from their fifth starter other than innings, and that’s probably the case for Capuano too. But in reality the Yankees might need Capuano to produce above what should be reasonably expected of someone in the spot due in part to the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the starting staff.

That said, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild may have taken some stress off Capuano, by suggesting the club could go through the middle part of April and into May with a six-man rotation due to a stretch of 30 games in 31 days according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Capuano could very well be the sixth guy with Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell and Chase Whitley competing for a rotation spot in Spring Training.

Regardless of his positioning, it seems that Capuano has an inside track on the other pitchers simply because he’s not a very good candidate to pitch in relief, and he’s going to cost the Yanks more than any of the other options. They can shoo away the money of course, but it’s pretty apparent that they feel he’ll have a part to play in the rotation along the way. If they wanted any of these younger guys ahead of him, they would not have bothered giving him a big league deal.

Capuano, 36, is anything but exciting. He’s been a run of the mill pitcher for most of his career, and he was simply getting pounded in Boston before they released him. He got picked up by the Colorado Rockies, and then his rights were sold to the Yankees after a few weeks.

To be fair, he was fairly steady in his two-plus months with the Yanks. He went 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA (3.85 FIP) with a 1.31 WHIP in 65.2 innings (12 starts). He struck out 7.5 batters per nine and walked 2.6 per game. The rate stats are right in line with his career numbers – 4.28 ERA (4.22 FIP), 1.34 WHIP, 7.5 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9.

Again, this is nothing to write home about but is surely serviceable for the fifth or sixth starter in a rotation. The Yankees would like nothing more than to see its top four starters stay healthy and insert Ivan Nova into the rotation come June, but that’s asking a lot. Capuano is simply an insurance policy.

What can the southpaw provide?



The biggest difference between Steamer and ZiPS (via FanGraphs) is role. As mentioned above, Capuano is not a great fit in the bullpen, and Steamer does not see him used as such, while ZiPS to some degree. If he is not part of the rotation, Capuano seems to be an unnecessary part.

The performance estimates are what they are; exactly what any team would expect to receive from the last man toeing the rubber in a rotation. Capuano will only be expected to keep the team in ballgames long enough to get to the bullpen, and hope that the offense can put up five runs at the same time. If that happens, the Yankees might see some value from Capuano. If he is getting knocked around, and there is better answer in Warren, Rogers or one of the minor leaguers, it’s not difficult to see the Yanks let go of Capuano.

Capuano is without a doubt merely the last bit of filler for the rotation at this time. He’s got a leg up this spring based on his profile working better as a starter, and the club’s money invested. That said, make no mistake, this filler can easily be replaced.

Yankees logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Celebrating Yankees’ heroes should be fun

The New York Yankees announced Monday that they would be retiring the jersey numbers of Andy Pettitte (No. 46), Jorge Posada (No. 20) and Bernie Williams (No. 51) this coming season. The club will also conduct a ceremony for former captain Willie Randolph, giving him a plaque in Monument Park. The press release including the dates of the events is here.

Once the three numbers are retired and out of circulation, the Yankees will be without the use of 20 numbers, and Derek Jeter’s No. 2 will surely be out of use until it is officially retired at a later time. The Yankees had a slew of number retirements and plaque ceremonies last season, mostly to celebrate members of the late 90’s early 00’s teams who made significant contributions to the franchise especially those who helped with four World Series titles in five seasons. The team also wove in an “old timer” along the way (Goose Gossage last season).

The Yankees call it a “recognition series” and that’s all it should be looked at as. It’s not meant to examine players and determine who had more of an impact or not. It’s simply the team’s way of showing their appreciation for the player’s roles in the history of the Yankees. Some players, as far as the Yankees are concerned, check off enough boxes to warrant their number being retired, others will receive a plaque and many more will receive nothing more than an invite to Old Timer's Day.

Fans and media can have their opinions of course, and a lot of it comes down to this subjective matter in which the Yankees seem to be making their decisions on who gets a number retired and who gets a plaque. Is it based on championships, all-star appearances, club records, captainship, longevity or all of the above? Do we need to know the Yankees' criteria?

While this should be a good thing for the team and its fans – a celebration of the great players in Yankees' history – there are some who simply feel the Yankees have begun to go too far with their number retirements and plaque ceremonies. Can there be enough celebration of great players? Does it matter that someone cannot wear No. 20 anymore, but No. 21 or No. 24 is still available? Is it really scary that the Yankees might run out of numbers?

It’s difficult for some to differentiate between the Yankees icons of yesteryear and those of more recent memory. Were Paul O’Neill's contributions to the Yankees more important that Graig Nettles’? For now, the Yankees say yes. It is believed that Nettles is on the radar for a plaque ceremony now with Randolph lined up for his. But seriously, what is the issue?

Part of it is timing. Why rush to get the players of more recent memory a ceremony? Why so many in one season? It is very similar to the Hall of Fame debates that go on and on each season. It’s a subjective decision. The Yankees have their own ideas on who deserves what and when. It’s something the fans and the media are going to have to deal with and it is certainly not hurting anyone.

The debate on the worthiness is fine, but to lament it like the Yankees are doing a disservice to the fans themselves, or for the media to ridicule the proceedings because they require coverage is inane. The Yankees are not out to hurt its former player’s feelings, but rather to commemorate the excellence of its most celebrated players. How is this wrong?

Photo of Bernie Williams courtesy of Wikipedia.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Yankees might need even more from Jacoby Ellsbury in 2015

When the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract before the 2014 season, there was immediate speculation about the short and long term ramifications of the deal. Could Ellsbury produce enough early on in the contract to “pay off” the inevitable decline at the end of it?

Ellsbury was arguably the Yankees’ best offensive player in 2014. Unfortunately that is not really saying much as the Yankees’ offense sputtered virtually all season ranking 13th in runs scored in the American League and 20th in all of Major League Baseball with 633. That was down from 650 runs scored in 2013, and 804 in 2012.

Ellsbury was brought to the Bronx to boost those 2013 numbers, and while he put together a solid season, it was through incredible spurts of great and poor stretches, and without much support. When Ellsbury was hitting, he was unstoppable and when he was having trouble at the plate it was painful to watch. It seemed that if he was hot no one else was, and when he slowed down, some players were mired in slumps of their own.

Ellsbury’s final stat line of 2014 looked like this – .271/.328/.419, 111 OPS+, 27 doubles, five triples, 16 HR, 71 R, 70 RBI and 39 SB in 635 plate appearances. That final metric is one that has settled some Yankees’ fans nerves a bit; Ellsbury was able to stay on the field for most of the season, playing in 149 games, his most since 2011 when he missed just three games.

That 2011 season was a magical one for Ellsbury (146 OPS+) but no one expects him to reach those lofty numbers again. It's been believed that Ellsbury’s game is best suited around getting on base and using his speed and base running abilities to score runs. He was "miscast" according to some for much of the 2014 season as the team’s number-three hitter due to injury and performance issues of others on the roster. The Yankees need to make sure Ellsbury hits in a lineup spot that not only suits his abilities but lends to the success of the team considering the shaky makeup of the middle of the Bombers' batting order. More on this in a bit.

Ellsbury also provided the Yankees what looked like fine work in center field in 2014. The importance of this cannot be discounted, but he took a step back according to fielding metrics. Ellsbury rated a (-5) in defensive runs saved (he was +13 in 2013) according to The Fielding Bible, and his UZR/150 was 0.6, down from 12.9 in 2013 while with the Boston Red Sox.

With Brett Gardner in left field, Ellsbury’s life is easier, but he’ll have to be able to cover more ground in right field with a slower and older Carlos Beltran manning it. Defensive metrics are not perfect, so it will be interesting to see if Ellsbury still looks good to the naked eye and how he rates on the statistical side in 2015.

Getting back to the offensive aspect of the game and how 2015 shapes up, it looks as though Ellsbury will not leadoff games, with manager Joe Girardi feeling more comfortable using Gardner at the top of the order. It’s uncertain if it is because Girardi feels Gardner is more comfortable as the leadoff hitter, or if the skipper simply believes Gardner is better suited for the role than Ellsbury. Gardner has been successful leading off – asking the question is not a slight on him – but it’s worth looking into.

Ellsbury might be the better than Gardner to acclimate to any spot in the order, proved somewhat by his ability to hit well in the #3 spot in the order last season. Ellsbury had nearly twice as many plate appearances hitting third than first and the resulting splits are interesting.

1st – 219 PA, 8 HR, .257/.298/.475
3rd – 407 PA, 8 HR, .277/.342/.386

Theoretically, the lines would seemingly be better if reversed. A leadoff hitter with the line that Ellsbury put together hitting third would be very good (particularly looking at on-base percentage) while the thump shown as the leadoff hitter would be superb as the third hitter in the order.

Digging a little deeper, Ellsbury was putrid when leading off the game – .188/.204/.333 in 49 PA – and only slightly better when leading off any inning – .233/.291/.384 in 158 PA. For reference, here are Gardner’s lines in those situations – .284/.365/.558 in 107 PA leading off a game, and .279/.336/.505 in 241 PA as the first hitter of an inning. It’s easier now to see Girardi’s thinking.

So, if Ellsbury is more suited to hitting second, (he only has 92 PA in that spot, though he’s put together an .896 OPS in the small sample) or even back in the third spot, which would potentially eliminate having two left-handed hitters slotted back to back. A question, one we won’t get into here, is which right-handed hitter bats second if the intention is to split the lefties? Maybe another; is there anyone who will perform better than Ellsbury with the profile to hit second?

Staying on the subject of the batting order, players do enjoy some measure of stability. Going into the clubhouse each day and seeing their name in ink in the same spot on a daily basis provides the player with an added measure of confidence. This all assumes the performance is there to warrant maintaining the spot. Ellsbury was not overmatched as the third hitter, and it’s doubtful he would suffer in the number two spot in the order if that is how Girardi decides to go.

The long and short of it is the Yankees surely seem better with Gardner at the top of the order, and Ellsbury had glimpses of thriving when hitting third. Ellsbury could go back and forth between the second and third position in the order depending on the handedness of the pitcher and how the rest of the lineup is performing. While stability is nice, it seems Ellsbury can handle being flexible where Gardner is clearly more comfortable leading off.

Projections for Ellsbury via FanGraphs from Steamer and ZiPS for 2015 are pretty good.



The models' predictions are somewhat similar. It's hard to get a gauge as to whether these projections see Ellsbury leading off or hitting lower in the order, but the stats with rates and averages are most important and they are reflective of his 2014 season. The stolen bases are down – and while on that subject – there is no reason to think he should run less because he might hit third. Speed is useful in this game no matter the spot in the lineup. Notably, both models show an uptick in defensive runs saved.

If Ellsbury can put together a season with an fWAR mark of 3.8 or better, the Yankees would surely be happy with that. But, it should be noted that this is very close to the value line when looking at the average annual value of his contract. Most industry experts on the subject of WAR values seem to believe that the cost of 1.0 WAR is anywhere between $5.5 million and $7 million. Ellsbury, at 3.8 WAR, costs a bit more than $5.75 million per 1.0 WAR; landing in the lower (and better) part of the scale.

As mentioned earlier, Ellsbury was going to need to be much better than WAR value early on in his contract simply because of the length of the deal and the certainty of decline due to age. After turning in a 3.6 fWAR in 2014, he might need a couple of big seasons to return full value on the contract.

Beyond the financial implications of Ellsbury's production, it cannot be understated how much his performance means to the Yankees in the standings. With comeback hopes for Beltran, Mark Teixeira and to some extent Brian McCann at the forefront of the Yankees' offensive wish list, Ellsbury doing his part ahead of them in the order (whether second or third in the lineup) is tantamount to the club's success in 2015.

Ellsbury was very good in 2014, but he might need to be even better in 2015.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Photo of Jacoby Ellsbury courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.