Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The biggest surprise of Yankees’ camp is…

Alex Rodriguez.

The New York Yankees might have expected a circus and a completely overmatched player. They saw the former thanks to the mainstream media (not A-Rod) and they witnessed something completely different from a player performance standpoint – competence.

Throughout the first few days of camp it was difficult to stay away from the condescending and unnecessary tone of some beat reporters and their constant tweets about Rodriguez's performance during batting practice. They had already soaked up enough ink detailing for days on end what it was going to be like when the "circus came to town," and in fact the circus did not arrive until the beat and national baseball media did.

Rodriguez stayed above the fray, worked out, played baseball and was accessible to the media.

Rodriguez has melded into the clubhouse, reaped praise from teammates, been suggested as a mentor by others and has yet to allow the press to make a news story out of anything he has said. That aspect of Rodriguez not bringing a larger focus to him than is already present is a welcomed change and certainly was not something to be anticipated. Assumed maybe; because why would he shine a brighter light on himself? But not necessarily expected since he has done exactly that in the past.

Rodriguez has been able to push aside the many questions of his return; those coming from the area of performance-enhancing drugs and those concerning his chances of making the team, by working hard and performing well enough to be anointed the everyday designated hitter. He might even get some time at third and first base if absolutely necessary.

Those of you who have read my work or follow me on social media know by now that I do not condone Rodriguez's indiscretions or subsequent actions to hide them, and I was also very suspect of his abilities to play this season after missing 17 months of professional baseball. Rodriguez has paid for the mistakes, and he seems to be handling the bat well enough right now to be a factor for the club. Right now, all he needs to be judged on is his performance at the plate.

Now, I cannot say for certain Rodriguez will be productive through an entire season. Can he continue to put up solid power numbers when he is facing Major League pitching on a regular basis and in critical parts of games that actually count? I'm still a bit apprehensive about his chances to succeed long term, but I'm no longer willing to say that he cannot be a positive factor for the offense.

Besides giving the Yankees a better chance to win, Rodriguez's level of production is important because it will dictate how the press and fans treat him. How will he handle the failures that will inevitably come? Even if A-Rod is having decent plate appearances as a whole, he will have a slide or slump of some sort mixed in. At that point, he will invariably get bombarded with questions about his ability to play the game at the level necessary, and how he deals with that line of questioning will go a long way toward how he is treated going forward.

Rodriguez is smart enough to know that he has to stay on an even keel, just as he has demonstrated he can thus far in Spring Training. He has to keep focused on the game, and not allow himself to get sucked into the narratives surrounding his past regardless of how often he is reminded.

All Rodriguez can do now is perform to the best of his abilities. If he cannot produce over the long haul, he and the Yankees will have to consider what his baseball future holds. But it has to be Rodriguez's bat that dictates the expectations, not the tone of the press or the fans, or a poor response he gives to a ridiculous question that will surely be posited at some point.

There have been plenty of nice surprises in Yankees camp – the young players have shown they can play with the big boys and the injuries have been minimal – but Alex Rodriguez has been the biggest surprise because he's kept quiet and played good baseball. Can he do it for 162 games?

Photo of Alex Rodriguez courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 30, 2015

One week to go; Yankees have unanswered questions

In one week the New York Yankees officially begin their 2015 regular season slate of 162 games at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. As Spring Training winds down and the club begins to pack up to head north, the Yankees still have a handful of unanswered questions. Some of these are simply official announcements that need to be made; others have been handled with flat out vagueness to date.

Is Adam Warren the fifth starter or what?


It’s an uncertainty as to what the holdup is here. Warren has established himself as the best option and whether good or bad for the Yankees, it hasn’t been much of a competition. So, why not just say it?

Esmil Rogers is simply not to be trusted and the only other player who I suspect was given a true look was Scott Baker, who was released Sunday after getting knocked around Saturday. Bryan Mitchell was in the proverbial competition, but I believe a lot had to go wrong with the rotation for Mitchell to break camp.

Warren will get the official nod at some point soon.

Is CC Sabathia ready?


He says he is getting there. The results say otherwise, but I will side with the player here, one who has hardly ever put up a good line in spring. He did last season, and got rocked once the real games began.

Sabathia is healthy, feels stronger and has shown a slight uptick in velocity. He’s getting a feel for the ancillary pitches and once he gets everything working right there, the disparity between his fastball and offspeed pitches could make him a viable middle of the rotation arm.

Sabathia logging 200-plus innings is a big key with the uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda from a health perspective.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury going to play Opening Day?


By all accounts, Ellsbury is feeling good and is expected to be on the field in time to get a few games under his belt before Opening Day. The issue with strained oblique muscles is that they tend to linger and sometimes flair up quite easily if not fully healed in the first place.

Ellsbury is very important to the success of the club, especially with the current offensives struggles of Brett Gardner. Ellsbury has only had 27 plate appearances this spring, so even if he gets a few games in this week, he could be a bit rusty in the first week or so of the regular season.

Is Gardner going to get going?


I discussed this some last week and Gardner has not turned the corner yet. After a pathetic finish to the 2014 season, which really dragged down what was shaping up to be one of his best seasons, Gardner looks as lost at the plate as ever.

Gardner is taking some walks, but he’s also struck out 15 times in 57 plate appearances. This has to change so the Yankees can maximize run-scoring opportunities.

Will this offense score some runs?


The early part of the spring most all the regular players except for Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez were having a difficult time at the plate. Neither of them is really expected to carry the offense, but production from both could be a bonus or might be needed to offset continued deficiencies in the middle of the order.

Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran (in whatever order you’d like) must put together bounceback seasons for the Bombers to be the Bombers again. Without at least two of these players having better than average seasons, it is going to be a tough time for the Yankees’ offense. The spring has done little to suggest they are certainties for the numbers they are being paid to supply.

No one is expecting much from Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorius with the bats, but each has the chance to prove analysts wrong. Simply delivering OPS in the low .700s with their defense would be a plus. While it sounds simple, neither player came close to a .700 OPS in 2014.

The regulars will get a bulk of any plate appearances this week so it would be nice to see a majority of them put together solid at-bats going forward.

Who is the backup catcher?


John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine continue to "battle it out" for the right to back up McCann; except it has not been much of a battle. Neither has hit the ball all that well this spring, and it seemed like Romine needed to considerably outplay Murphy to win the spot. He has not done that yet.

The hitch is that Romine is out of options, so the Yankees either have to carry him, trade him or designate him for assignment. There have been some rumblings of teams checking in on Romine, so there is a bit of interest, but of course the return would not be anything spectacular.

Unless Murphy is hurt before the team leaves for New York, I'd expect him to be on the 25-man roster, and Romine to be playing elsewhere. The club will wait until the last minute here.

Who rounds out the bullpen?


Manager Joe Girardi will utilize the rest of this week to make the final calls for the bullpen. In my estimation, Rogers, Chase Whitley and Chasen Shreve are the favorites to accompany Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson in the Yankees’ bullpen.

Andrew Bailey remains an intriguing option, but he might not have logged enough innings for Girardi to feel comfortable with him breaking camp. If someone falters, or gets hurt, I would not be surprised if Bailey is the first one called up, assuming he is healthy.

For a more in-depth look into this question, check out this piece from last week.

Who is the closer, or is there two?


Girardi has yet to name a closer, and chances are that there is no definitive answer to this question when the Yankees arrive in the Bronx. Betances has been quite hittable, while Miller seems to be a bit more comfortable at this point.

I believe the Yanks wanted to anoint Betances the closer, but with his uneven spring, feel that it’s something that can wait until they know for certain he is finding his groove. Having Miller as an option, or even going to Carpenter for a bit if needed, are options for Girardi.

In the end, Betances probably locks down the most games for the Yankees this season, but it would not be a problem if the skipper decides to use him with Miller interchangeably depending on the circumstances.

It’s the final week of Spring Training, and many if not all of these questions should be answered to some extent before Tanaka takes the hill Monday, April 6.

Yankees logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

I was recently on The Weekend Watchdogs radio show discussing the Yankees. We talked about much of what has transpired this spring and what to look for in the upcoming season. My spot begins at the 1:04:50 mark.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 27, 2015

Who grabs Yankees’ final bullpen spots?

Now that Adam Warren is 99 percent of the way to being named the New York Yankees fifth starter, who is going to claim the last three bullpen spots?

The certainties in the bullpen are Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Earlier this week, we discussed why the setup guys are every bit as important as Betances and Miller.

Make no mistake; the final three spots are fairly crucial as well. The candidates on the 40-man roster are plentiful – right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez with Chasen Shreve the lone lefty.

There will be at least two pitchers placed on the disabled list when the season begins; Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, with the latter potentially hitting the 60-day DL which would open up one spot on the 40-man roster. Of that crop, the Yankees have Scott Baker, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Wilking Rodriguez from the right side and Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos and Tyler Webb from the left side.

So, the Yankees have a good deal of options. Rogers would seem like a lock for a role because he’s getting paid as such, and while I did not understand the signing to begin with, it is what it is. In my view, Rogers would be OK to get work in the fifth and sixth innings of close games and available later in games if Carpenter is scheduled for a day off. Trusting Rogers to much more is playing with fire.

That leaves two spots; a swingman and another one-inning guy or lefty specialist. Whitley has had a very good spring (11 IP and one run allowed) and has experience pitching out of the pen and filling in as a spot-starter when needed. It might make the most sense to give Whitley the swingman role and allow the minor league starters to do just that, start.

But, Whitley has options and maybe the Yankees want to keep him fully stretched out instead of handling mop-up duties? If that was the case they could give the swingman role to Baker. Or they could keep Martin, Burawa or Ramirez up with the big club and slide Rogers to the swingman role.

Either way that leaves one slot and Shreve seems to be the favorite for it, though he’s had a bit of an uneven spring (6.75 ERA, two homers allowed in eight innings). He would be the third left-hander in the bullpen, but it’s well-known that Miller and Wilson are far from lefty specialists.

Shreve could be used for short stints against tough lefties. Here’s the rub, there are not many “tough” lefties in the American League East this season, so how often would Shreve be called upon for such a situation? With Miller and Wilson, wouldn’t manager Joe Girardi still go to those guys against any good lefty hitters in late innings?

Could Shreve benefit from honing his skills in the minors allowing the Yankees to bring in another right-hander? Perhaps Bailey is given a shot to fulfill his comeback despite having thrown just three innings thus far this spring? Or again, see if Martin, Burawa or Ramirez can handle big league batters for an extended period? How long will the Yankees be able to keep Lindgren in Triple-A?

To further complicate things, Capuano is being paid $5 million (I still don’t get it) so he’ll have some sort of spot when he returns sometime in late April, as will Ivan Nova who is set to earn $3.3 million and he could be back sometime in June. It would seem those guys are getting roster spots back, at least to prove they belong. If somehow the Yankees are able to keep everyone else on the entire pitching staff healthy they’ll have some choices to make about whom to send down to the minors or designate for assignment.

The long and short of it is the Yankees have a host of options at their disposal. The benefit of having this kind of depth is that the cycle can be ever-changing. If Rogers falters, they designate him and bring up one of the many youngsters. If Whitley fails, they send him down and bring someone else up. Same goes with Shreve, Bailey, Baker or anyone else they initially slot in these final positions.

The Yankees purposely strengthened their reliever stable this offseason and have developed some key youngsters so that they can maneuver players through the inevitable maze of injuries that beset teams. The options are plentiful and could be a key to the Yankees surviving the long grueling season.

Photo of Brian McCann and Chase Whitley courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 26, 2015

Spring Training stats do matter for certain Yankees

Spring Training is just practice, right? The New York Yankees should not be overly concerned or exceedingly hyped about statistics generated over the course of a few weeks which are mixed with minor league and rehabilitating players.

Not so fast.

There are certain circumstances in which the Yankees should take heed in the stats produced this spring particularly when they make roster decisions or anticipate future moves this season.

The argument is that while Spring Training statistics cannot be looked at as the sole factor in determining the future results of a player, they should and can play a large part in comparing like players, verifying whether a player is on a path similar to previous seasons, understand if injuries are resolved or help to alert the coaching staff to inefficiencies in the player’s mechanics.

First statistics are pretty important when evaluating competitions between two players. Spring stats have to at least be part of the basis for the decision making process in determining who receives roster spots. Sure, experience, the sound off a bat, the pop of the mitt and the notion of bad luck are taken into account but for all intents and purposes, the statistics are helpful.

This is surely the case when the Yankees contemplate their utility role for the infield. It may not be as much of an issue now since Jose Pirela's injury, but his strong spring and eye-opening 2014, has forced the Yankees to consider the 25-year-old for a roster spot earmarked for light-hitting Brendan Ryan.

Spring stats also carry more weight when the previous season’s results – whether good or bad – seem to be replicating. For instance, Chase Headley was experiencing a nice turnaround in 2014 once arriving in New York, and is off to a pretty good start this spring. Will Headley hit over .300 this season? Probably not, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe that he can continue to provide similar production as he did at the end of last season.

On the flip side, there are players like Brett Gardner who went into an awful tailspin toward the end of last season. Gardner hit .176/.226/.301 with 35 strikeouts in 170 plate appearances covering 40 games from Aug. 5 through the end of the season. Much of this was later thought to be associated with Gardner’s abdominal issue which required offseason surgery.

However, Gardner is off to a horrendous start to the spring (.140/.260/.186 in 50 plate appearances with 14 strikeouts) and besides the stats he looks somewhat lost at the plate. He hasn’t driven the ball at all, and looks to be trying to pull everything.

Could there be something more here? Is it possible that some of the power Gardner showed in 2014 has gotten into his head and he’s no longer trying to smack balls in the gaps and utilize his speed to generate offense?

Gardner is a good hitter (.265/.346/.390 for his career), but he’s never been spectacular, and so it is entirely possible that the slide which began last season is the beginning of something more. It’s certainly worthy of watching as 2015 progresses.

Beyond the struggles of a stretch at the end of a season and it continuing into the following season, there is the instance of a player having an entirely awful season and then it continuing into the subsequent spring. Stephen Drew fits soundly into this category.

Drew’s downfall been discussed quite often since he arrived in New York last season, and with good reason. There are two sides to the Drew argument; one he’s on the downside of his career, and two, he missed Spring Training last season and needed to utilize this spring to gain some timing and be able to produce to similar metrics as he managed in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, after 40 plate appearances this spring Drew has looked every bit the same woeful contributor at the plate, hitting a sparse .167/.250/.278. With Drew, a career .256 hitter, we’re again not talking about a superstar, so maybe his days are numbered as a starter.

Another situation in which the spring stats matter is when a pitcher is coming back from injury. Yes, it can take some time to get into the flow of things, but once the games commence, teams need to look at something tangible. If the pitcher claims to be feeling good, the mechanics are right and the velocity and “stuff” is there, but the results are not, what do the teams do?

Take Masahiro Tanaka as the first example. He’s having a very solid spring thus far. He’s looked healthy, his splitter is crisp and he’s seen positive results (10.1 IP, 1.74 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 12 K and .171 BAA). He also was very good last season before his right ulnar collateral ligament was found to have a partial tear. So, as with Headley, the positive results from last season combined with the good work thus far in the spring, gives us reasonable expectations that Tanaka can perform to his abilities.

Looking at a pitcher from the negative side, CC Sabathia was pretty awful in last season. Like Gardner, part of Sabathia's poor performance was connected to an injury, a bum knee which was surgically repaired last summer. After rehab and a regular offseason of work, Sabathia came to camp claiming to feel as good as he had in a while.

Sabathia has seen some improvement in his fastball velocity, but the results have not translated yet. It can be argued that Sabathia’s increased velocity is good, but the need for his ancillary pitches to shine is required at this stage in his career. He cannot rely on a fastball to get out of jams, but needs to mix his pitches and locate them appropriately or he will get hit hard. This was happening in 2014, and it’s been similar for the short time he’s been on the mound in 2015.

Should Sabathia continue to miss his spots and the balls continue to leave the yard, the stats will be a true reflection of what kind of pitcher he’ll be going forward.

Finally, there is the instance where the stats from the spring force one to recall a time when the particular player was not exactly as good as he was the previous season. Dellin Betances was almost bumped from the Yankees’ organization back in 2012, before the club decided to convert the one-time starter into a reliever.

He saw some benefits to the move in 2013 in the minors and burst onto the scene in 2014, becoming the Yankees primary setup man, making the All-Star team and finishing in second place in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. Betances regularly dialed his fastball up in the high 90s and occasionally topped 100-mph.

This spring, not only is Betances’ velocity down, his statistics are unlike what we saw in 2014. But, unfortunately they are not dissimilar to what we have seen in the past from Betances. Betances’ issue was control, and beyond his diminished velocity this spring, the right-hander is not hitting his spots. He is not walking a lot of hitters, but he is leaving pitches in the zone and they are getting hammered.

Betances’ spring statistics are a direct result of lowered velocity and lack of command. The numbers themselves could be ignored, but the reasons he’s compiled the numbers should not be overlooked.

And this was the premise we set out to establish; Spring Training statistics cannot be looked at as the sole factor in determining the future results of a player. However, spring statistics should be given proper weight in competitions and in conjunction with previous history of players (whether performance or injury related).

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 24, 2015

Setup men are equally important to Yankees’ success

The news around New York Yankees camp the last couple of days is that the club is not ready to name a closer between Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller; and they might not name one once the regular season begins. But, of equal importance to the club's success, the Yankees employ some very competent arms who will provide setup support for whoever grabs ninth inning duties.

The Yankees have a fragile starting staff, one which manager Joe Girardi might choose to handle with kid gloves early on this season. There could be plenty of situations where the starter is ahead in the game and could be out by the sixth inning requiring up to four innings from the bullpen.

That type of situation necessitates a strong setup crew and the Yankees have exactly that. Obviously Betances and Miller will handle the eighth and ninth innings on most nights regardless of the order they are used, but how would innings six and seven be handled?

The Yankees brought in right-hander David Carpenter in the offseason from the Atlanta Braves along with Chasen Shreve for Manny Banuelos. Carpenter, 29, was an effective setup man for the Braves for the last two seasons.

Carpenter, across 186.2 major league innings, has a 3.62 ERA (3.42 FIP) with a 9.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 (which he’s lowered the last two seasons). He averages around 95-mph with his fastball and owns an effective slider. Carpenter accumulated 19 holds in 2014. He’s expected to get a lion’s share of the seventh inning duties with righties in the batter’s box, though he can handle left-handed hitters as well.

Carpenter has endured a bit of a rough spring (5.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 4 K and 4 BB). The walks are an obvious concern, but there is time to work through those kinks.

From the left side, the Yankees acquired Justin Wilson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Francisco Cervelli. Wilson, 27, ran into a bit of trouble in 2014, but was lights out for the Bucs in 2013.

Wilson is another hard thrower – he sits 95-mph with his four-seam fastball – who has an expanded arsenal including a two-seam fastball, cutter and a curveball. Each of the pitches was a plus pitch last season according to FanGraphs except the curve, which had been effective the previous year.

Wilson is no LOOGY. He is able to get out batters from the opposite side, posting a .609 OPS against right-handed batters (.617 OPS against left-handed hitters). In fact, Wilson has tossed almost twice as many total innings against righties than lefties (89.2 vs. 48.2).

Overall, Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) with an 8.3 K/9 and 3.97 BB/9 (his Achilles heel) in his 138.1 big league innings. He produces a lot of ground balls (50.9 percent career rate).

Wilson has not allowed a run this spring (5.1 IP) and has struck out seven while walking just one batter.

There is one hitch to whether Carpenter or Wilson gets most of the seventh inning outs and that’s Adam Warren, and maybe Esmil Rogers. Whichever of these two guys loses the fifth-starter role, will likely claim a spot in the bullpen.

Warren was very good for a better part of the 2014 season as a setup man. Warren picks up some arm speed when used as a reliever dialing it up into the 96-97 mph zone at times. Warren could easily be used by Girardi for high-leverage outs at any point in the game. Rogers could be used in a short or long relief role depending on needs.

Beyond the five spots which are mostly determined, the Yankees will take one more short-inning reliever and a long-man/swing-man type. There are a slew of candidates for the short-inning work – righties Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Andrew Bailey and Jose Ramirez as well as the lefty Shreve among them. Burton or Bailey would require a 40-man roster move, but Ivan Nova is set to begin the season on the DL so that could free up a spot.

Burton and Bailey each have plenty of major league time under their belts – Bailey with closing experience – but have been injured and are trying to make comebacks. Either could be a very nice wild card if they are able to break camp and stay healthy.

As for the long-man/swing-man role, the Yanks could go with Rogers, Chase Whitley or Scott Baker (not on 40-man roster); assuming the club wants to send Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A to stay completely stretched out.

There is further depth in the minor leagues with Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb potentially finding some innings along the way, though if they do, it likely means significant injuries to the pitching staff.

The Yankees' bullpen, as a whole, is one of the biggest positive facets of their roster. If the Yanks can bring leads to the sixth inning, there is a good chance the club can pull out the victory.

Photo of David Carpenter courtesy of Thomson20192 via Flickr.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com and MLB.com.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 23, 2015

Yankees fine tuning on several fronts

The New York Yankees are now exactly two weeks from the start of the regular season and the name of the game is fine tuning. Plain and simple, this is the time to work out the final kinks for pitchers and for the hitters to nail down their timing. It's going to get real very soon.

Sabathia’s velocity encouraging despite rough command


CC Sabathia stepped on the hill Sunday for his second start of the spring and while it was encouraging to see he had the same life on his fastball as his first start, he certainly needs more time to work on his command.

Sabathia's fastball has been sitting the low 90s consistently and reached 94-mph Sunday which is a great sign. However, he allowed three home runs along the way so while the uptick makes his offspeed deliveries harder to distinguish, he cannot afford to leave the fastball in the zone.

Sabathia said he feels much better than he did last year at this time and manager Joe Girardi is pleased with the added velocity and notes there is time in camp to get sharper.

"For him it's just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work," Girardi said according to Jamal Collier of MLB.com. "He feels great, there's a lot of life to his arm, so I'm still encouraged. I don't worry about the numbers, I'm not going to because I think he needs to pitch; he's not pitched a lot in the last 20 months or whatever. So we've got to get him out there."

For a different unbiased look, New York Mets third baseman David Wright was more than complimentary to Sabathia.

"He looked sharp, crisp," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "Stuff-wise, he looked like the CC I remember when he was excellent."

Understanding Wright is a class act and won't be negative about players on other teams; his comments should carry some weight. He could have simply said Sabathia looked good.

Fifth starter competition rolls on


Esmil Rogers allowed his first runs of the spring Thursday, going 3.1 innings and giving up three runs on five hits. His main competitor Adam Warren was strong in five innings of one-run ball the following day. Chase Whitley tossed three scoreless innings after Warren and the final contender Bryan Mitchell starts Monday’s game.

It remains to be seen if this will be Mitchell’s last start or not as time winds down in camp. As for Whitley, since he is coming into games after the starter, it seems his role would be as a swingman if he makes the club.

As it stands now, Rogers and Warren will get two or three more starts, and it is likely the winner of the fifth starter role is one of those two with the other moving to the bullpen.

From the beginning, we’ve liked Warren in this role (regardless of Chris Capuano’s health) and have yet to figure out why the Yankees remain high on Rogers.

Pirela’s concussion likely ends small chance to make club


Jose Pirela has the potential to be a super-utility player for the Yankees; however, it will probably not happen at the break of camp after the 25-year-old prospect slammed into the center field wall in Sunday’s game, causing a concussion. Results of subsequent tests were normal, so Pirela will be on the shelf for at least a week to 10 days.

Pirela was hitting .370 (10-for-27) with five extra-base hits this spring and doing his best to supplant Brendan Ryan for the infield utility role. It seemed in recent days that the Yankees were looking for ways to keep Pirela involved and see exactly how much of an asset he could be off the bench, thus his playing center field Sunday.

It was argued here last week that Pirela was being robbed of a roster spot. Unfortunately, for the time being, the argument is moot.

Offense remains limp


Just as the pitchers will use the final two weeks of Spring Training to fine tune their mechanics, the Yankees offense will search for the missing pieces to their swings. Of the expected crop of position players set to make the 25-man roster only three players are hitting above .250, with only Chase Headley hitting above .300 (.316, 10-for-32 with two home runs).

As good as the pitching has been thus far, the staff cannot be expected to hold opponents to two runs or less all the time. Sure, this is a veteran club and maybe the last two weeks of spring will be different, but it would sure be nice to see some life in a few of the bats, especially guys like Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran who are key components to the offense. Given each of their struggles last season, it’s tough to dismiss their early season results.

No closer until regular season begins?


According to Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog, the club might not have a set closer once the regular season begins. This is an interesting development as many assumed that Dellin Betances would have placed himself at the top rung by now. But, Betances has not been very sharp thus far and his fastball velocity is slightly diminished from last season.

On the other hand, Andrew Miller has been crisper and is certainly qualified to close out games. We’ve discussed several times the good fortune of having two players who can close at Girardi’s disposal. Maybe Girardi wants to test the waters some in regular season games before settling on one player, or he intends on taking this day by day and making his decisions based on the opposition’s batting order in late innings.

Photo of CC Sabathia courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 20, 2015

Are the Yankees wasting roster spots?

There is some debate about when to bring younger players into the mix all over Major League Baseball, and it is no different for the New York Yankees. Often, this question pertains to the status of a “can’t miss” rookie like the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant who is simply being held back to push his arbitration/free agency eligibility out another year. But other times a club’s thought process inhibits the upward movement of fringe prospects like the Yankees’ Jose Pirela or Bryan Mitchell (there are more to share later).

Pirela is a late-bloomer and Mitchell might still be finding his way to consistency, but it can be argued that the Yankees are failing to allow them (and others) the shot right now, because they’d prefer a potentially “safer’ bet in veterans. What’s troubling about this view is that the vets they are handing spots to are not exactly top of the line players. They’re each below replacement-level players at their best, so why waste roster spots on them?

Pirela is essentially blocked by Brendan Ryan, an above-average fielder who lives at the Mendoza line with the bat. Ryan is more or less an automatic out, but the Yankees are valuing defense with their groundball leaning pitching staff. This is understandable for the starters, but isn’t it more effective for the Yankees to have a potentially potent bat like Pirela’s available off the bench?

Ryan is no longer needed as a defensive replacement late in games. The constructed infield will likely be one of the best defenses in the game. And Ryan is certainly not going to pinch hit for anyone. It’s laughable to think that because starting shortstop Didi Gregorius has trouble against left-handed hitters, Ryan might be called upon to pinch hit late in a tight game or completely replace Gregorius against tough lefties.

Ryan isn’t making a ton of money ($2 million), so this is not merely about saving a few bucks; it’s about getting meaningful value from young players with little more to prove. Pirela ranks here. He possesses a major league ready bat and while he’s not dazzling in the field, he can play virtually everywhere except catcher in a pinch.

It might be going too far to say that the Yankees should not have signed Stephen Drew, because the mindset is understandable here so long as the club makes their move away from him if necessary. The Yanks cannot make the same mistake they did last season with Brian Roberts and let Drew languish, especially after the latter’s own 2014 debacle.

Drew holding down second base is fine, and if he’s producing somewhere near his 2013 numbers with the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees did well for $5 million. Further, if Gregorius is simply not coming along against southpaw pitching, then Drew can slide over to shortstop on given days and Pirela could handle second base. The Yankees will never know if Pirela is a player who can stay afloat against major league pitchers for an extended period if they do not provide the opportunity.

Remember Yangervis Solarte last season? Pretty much no one saw that coming and the Yankees parlayed his incredible Spring Training and subsequent strong first six weeks or so of the regular season into a piece of the deal which brought Chase Headley to the Bronx. That’s potentially where Pirela’s value ends up being; as a part of a package for a player needed to make a playoff push. Unless the Yankees allow Pirela some time on the major league roster, they’ll be unable to showcase his abilities and demonstrate he won’t be overmatched.

The Yankees have a similar situation with the pitching staff. There is certainly something to be said about having depth in the organization when it comes to pitching. We see it almost daily that a pitcher has elbow or shoulder problems necessitating a depth-chart move.

The Yankees signed Chris Capuano in the offseason to a one-year, $5 million deal to be the fifth starter, or at least be available to be the fifth starter (Ivan Nova is due back in late May). Capuano was serviceable over the last couple of months of the 2014 season, but the club could derive the same value from one of their youngsters.

The Yankees also inked Esmil Rogers to a one-year deal worth just $1.48 million. Again, the argument is not coming from a financial standpoint alone, but money saved is either that alone or cash which could be used elsewhere. Again, Rogers is jamming a roster spot that could easily go to a handful of relievers.

How?

Well, the Yankees could have still brought Adam Warren into camp to work as a starter. He’s been good thus far in the spring and has a proven track record as a starter in the minors (3.11 ERA in 497 innings). Or the Yankees could have further bolstered the bullpen by having Warren work setup innings along with David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, leading to the eighth and ninth innings with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

If pushing Warren to the bullpen was the direction, there is Mitchell who for two springs has been involved in a competition for the final starter role. The Yankees also have Chase Whitley who provided significant assistance to the club early last season as a starter. Now, Mitchell is somewhat touted (#14 on MLB.com’s Yankees’ prospect list), so he’d have an advantage of winning the role, but Whitley could easily handle swingman duties and be available for spot starts along the way.

Digging deeper, the Yankees have a handful of relief arms that could help withstand moving Warren, Mitchell and Whitley into the rotation if a complete disintegration of the regular starting staff came to fruition. There are lefties Chasen Shreve, Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren along with righties like Danny Burawa and Nick Rumbelow. Shreve and Burawa are on the 40-man already.

Capuano is 36 years old and was getting hammered in Boston before they released him. It is reasonable to expect if he comes back from the quad injury, which will force a disabled list stint to start the season, he could fall into the same mold. Why waste the spot on him when there are more than a few players who could step up?

Finally, you’ll notice Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino have been excluded from this discussion. While there is excitement about these players, they do require a bit more seasoning; Severino more so than Refsnyder. By allowing them to mature in the minors, whether it is for half the 2015 season or for its entirety, the Yankees can utilize the fringe guys like Pirela and Mitchell to see what they’ve got. Maybe a similar stay in New York as Solarte's propels Pirela and Mitchell up the shopping list other teams presented to the Yankees during trade talks?

Even more to the point, the Yankees do not stand to suffer with Pirela, Mitchell, Shreve, Burawa or any of the players mentioned on the 25-man roster than they would with Ryan, Capuano or Rogers. They can only gain from it. They save some money, again which could be reinvested; they could potentially find their next answer for a particular role or they prominently display a young talent who could be useful to retain another player.

Any of those options is better than settling for performance bordering on replacement level or worse, and that’s exactly what the Yankees are doing by holding onto three players who have bounced around the league or will do so for the remainder of their careers.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 19, 2015

Yankees' Ellsbury suffers "mild" oblique strain; club not overly concerned

After a relatively quiet few weeks of Spring Training, the New York Yankees have had a couple of injuries pop up in the last few days, most notably a “mild” oblique strain for Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury will be out at least seven days with no baseball activity according to multiple reports.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi couldn’t use the word “mild” enough when describing Ellsbury’s situation following Wednesday’s clobbering of the Atlanta Braves. Girardi is correct in suggesting it is best to take it slow at this time of the year and Ellsbury will have over one week to get back into the swing of things before the regular season occurs.

"Six, seven days we'll give him off and see where he's at, Girardi said according to Paul Casella of MLB.com. "I'm not really concerned about it, because it's really mild. This is the time of year we can protect him a little bit, don't have to rush him back."

But, here’s the tricky thing; oblique strains linger at times. And for a baseball player, the constant movement of the area will cause discomfort if not fully healed, and could get worse. While it does not look like this will affect Ellsbury’s ability to be reading for Opening Day, it is certainly something to watch.

The Yankees played Jose Pirela in left field, moving Brett Gardner to center, for Wednesday’s game. If Ellsbury regresses, forcing a stint on the disabled list, Pirela’s chances of making the team become greater.

Related to Pirela’s opportunity to break camp, is the status of utility infielder Brendan Ryan who has not played much of any baseball this spring. Ryan’s status is unclear, but if he is not ready for Opening Day, Pirela is a virtual lock to make the team.

On the pitching front, Chris Capuano’s quad injury will keep him sidelined for an undetermined part of April and the Yankees will make a decision between Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as his replacement.

It would seem that Warren and Rogers are front-runners for the job, but any bullpen injury circumstances could necessitate changes in the club’s thinking. Rogers starts Thursday and Warren Friday. With just over two weeks to go, each pitcher will get a few starts in before Girardi has to make a decision.

Of a slightly lesser note, Jose De Paula is heading for an MRI of his shoulder according to reports due to lingering shoulder soreness. De Paula is on the 40-man roster but was expected to begin the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Finally, on the good side of the injury news, Masahiro Tanaka was fantastic in his second start of the spring tossing 3.2 innings of scoreless ball in Wednesday’s victory. Tanaka struck out three batters and allowed two hits while inducing plenty of ground balls. The impressive performance, without any symptoms of soreness in the pitching elbow, means all is well with the Yankees’ ace.

Photo of Jacoby Ellsbury courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 17, 2015

Yankees’ Sabathia hopes to follow Tanaka’s, Pineda’s footsteps

Tuesday night, New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia will be on the mound in a game for the first time since May 10, 2014. Thus far we have seen Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda take successful turns on the hill in their first tests this spring. They have been healthy and equally as important, they have been sharp. Sabathia hopes to keep the positive vibes going.

The difference for Sabathia is that he was not performing to expectations for much of 2013 and what little of last season he participated, while Tanaka and Pineda were very good in 2014. Certainly health is the main focus for Sabathia after having knee surgery last summer, but regaining at least some of the top of the line production is also important to the Yankees.

By no means does Sabathia have to win 20 games, nor does he need to maintain an ERA under 3.00, but he cannot be the pitcher he was the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much of Sabathia’s struggles can ultimately be related to diminished strength and his injury, or if his poor performance simply relates to declining abilities after throwing over 2,900 innings including the postseason in 14 seasons.

For his part Sabathia came to camp at a weight he feels more comfortable with, about 305 pounds. He had lost significant weight heading into the previous two seasons and looking back felt that he lost power because of it. Sabathia has been able to throw all of his pitches in bullpen sessions, live batting practice and in a simulated game, but he knows the test truly begins when he steps to the mound against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida Tuesday.

“I’m sure I’ll be excited, getting back out there,” Sabathia said according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “I’ve just got to keep it all in perspective. It’s the next step in getting ready for the season.”

It’s been reported that he’s had a bit more life on his fastball, nothing like the days when he was a power pitcher, but clearly more so than the last season or two. This is important as he’s still learning how to keep batters off balance with his offspeed offerings. With an uptick in fastball velocity, the offspeed stuff will be even more difficult to gauge and at this point in his career, Sabathia simply has to outwit batters with pitch selection, crisp offerings and location.

Yankees catcher Brian McCann believes Sabathia is on the right track.

“He’s looking good; we’re excited to see him on the mound again,” McCann said via Feinsand. “When you’re hurt, it’s harder to do anything. He got his knee fixed and hopefully he’s able to drive off that back side and plant. I’m excited to catch him.”

What should we look for in Sabathia’s first outing against hitters in game action?

First and foremost, we’ll see if Sabathia has the ability to get through the work without any physical issues. If his knee is not right, he and the Yankees can simply forget about him providing valuable production going forward.

Second, while we should expect some rust, can Sabathia show the ability to bring a fastball in the high 80s, maybe even top off around 90-mph in his first outing? These are not exceptional rates, but they would typically improve over his next several starts where he can stay in the low 90s consistently. Again this would make his offspeed pitches that much better, providing he is locating everything appropriately.

Next, how do his offspeed pitches look? Is there enough disparity in speed in comparison to his fastball? Are they crisp, with bite to them?

Finally, it’s all about location – location – location. Is Sabathia hitting his targets with each of his pitches? Is he getting batters off balance? Or are hitters getting good hacks at his offerings because he’s leaving pitches out over the plate?

These are items to look for tonight but also for each of Sabathia’s starts through the remainder of Spring Training. We should not expect all of this to gel right away, but any necessary improvement must be demonstrated by the time he steps on the mound for a game that matters.

Tanaka and Pineda were able to come out and show they maintained their electric stuff from last season. Sabathia has not been electric in years, but was it due to diminished strength and a bad knee?

We’ll begin to find out the answer to that question Tuesday.

Photo of CC Sabathia courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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, March 16, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Eovaldi showing promise

With each trip to the mound this spring, New York Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi has shown something more than the previous outing. Sunday, he stymied the Philadelphia Phillies through four innings of shutout ball. Eovaldi allowed just two hits, walked none and struck out three batters. He faced the minimum 12 hitters, throwing 45 pitches in his third appearance of the spring.

Eovaldi is working on all his pitches at this point and so far the results have been promising. Across nine innings, he’s allowed just one run, seven hits and struck out nine without walking a batter. Allowing zero walks is impressive when combined with a strikeout per inning, and Eovaldi was pleased with his progress.

"Today, overall everything felt pretty good," Eovaldi said according to MLB.com’s Adam Berry. "For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that's a good sign."

Eovaldi projects to be the fourth starter in the rotation and will be expected to log a significant number of innings with the uncertainty surrounding CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda from a health standpoint.

Manager Joe Girardi is expecting good things from Eovaldi.

"You can't expect much more," Girardi said via Berry. "We're really excited to have him in camp with us as one of our starters. We think he can do a really good job for us."

Headley swinging hot bat


While a majority of the Yankees continue to struggle at the plate, third baseman Chase Headley has found his groove, cranking a solo home run in Sunday’s contest. Headley is batting .364 (8-for-22) with two doubles and the homer.

Headley looking alive at the plate removes any discussion about Alex Rodriguez having a chance at third base, especially with A-Rod surprisingly hitting .353 (6-for-17) thus far this spring. The media frenzy that would have developed if Headley wasn’t hitting while A-Rod does would certainly cause an unnecessary stir.

Pineda swaggers through three no-hit innings


Pineda is showing enormous confidence early on this spring which might indicate that he is feeling quite healthy at the moment. His performances to date have been dazzling.

In his second start of the spring Saturday, Pineda tossed three scoreless, no-hit innings with four strikeouts and one walk, helping the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Pineda has not allowed a run in five total innings and opponents have managed just one hit and one walk thus far. Pineda, who has six strikeouts during the span, is content with his progress.

"My changeup and [other] pitches were working really good," Pineda said according to Berry. "The command is still good. I was very happy."

Fifth-starter competition is heating up


Girardi is going to have a tough decision ahead of him if each of the main competitors for the fifth-starter role continue to impress this spring.

Esmil Rogers threw three scoreless innings Saturday, Chase Whitley added two of his own Sunday and Adam Warren allowed two runs in three innings against a collection of Boston Red Sox regulars Friday night.

It is conceivable that each of the three pitchers mentioned grabs a spot on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, but the roles are not certain. With Chris Capuano out for several weeks due to a quad strain, the last spot in the rotation is wide-open as are three relief roles.

It would seem that Warren and Rogers are going to make the club, but Whitley might be placed at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to remain completely stretched out in case a spot starter is needed.

First cuts send Cave, Judge and Severino to minor league camp


The Yankees cut 10 players from major league camp Sunday including promising prospects Jake Cave, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino according to Chad Jennings of The LoHud Yankees Blog. Minor league camp begins Friday, March 20.

Cave went 5-for-12 with a home run and four RBI, Judge was 3-for-12 with a homer and Severino tossed 2.2 innings allowing six hits and two earned runs. Severino did strikeout five batters showing glimpses of his electric stuff.

It is expected that each of the three players will begin the season at Double-A Trenton.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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.