First, the basics of what’s going on with Masahiro Tanaka:
He’s going on the disabled list tomorrow, and the Yankees will keep Chase Whitley in the rotation. Michael Pineda will start tomorrow’s game on regular rest, and it sounds likely Gregorio Petit will be activated just one day after being optioned (the Yankees can do that since it’s a reaction to a player going on the disabled list). Now, onto the bigger questions.
What exactly happened to Tanaka’s forearm?
The short answer is, it seems no one is entirely sure. Tanaka said he felt fine after Thursday’s start in Detroit, and Brian Cashman said there were actually rave reviews about Tanaka’s bullpen on Sunday. Cashman said there was some early speculation — before the MRI results came in — that maybe some of the torque from that bullpen caused Tanaka to aggravate something in his wrist, but the tests actually came back negative in the wrist. The forearm issue that was discovered is incredibly mild and Tanaka never complained about it.
“He has the wrist complaint, but that led us to run into something else,” Cashman said. “So when you package it all together, we’re taking the safe conservative route. He has no complaint of his elbow, none, and he physically tests out fine with the elbow. I think he was surprised about the very small (strain) — and I stress small, I can’t even call it a Grade 1 — the very small signal in the forearm muscles. The combination of the tendinitis in the wrist — he throws that split finger — with the signal on the forearm muscle, Dr. Ahmad recommended the disabled list.”
Tanaka dismissed the idea that pitching on normal rest caused the issue, and Cashman repeatedly stressed that there’s been no physical change in the elbow, though it’s impossible for anyone to rule out the idea that this issue might be somehow related to the lingering elbow issue in one way or another.
What does this mean for Tanaka’s elbow?
In the short term, nothing. I guess it means the elbow is going to get some unexpected rest, but ultimately the Yankees don’t seem to be approaching this as an elbow issue, and certainly not as an issue that changes their approach to Tanaka. They’re shutting him down to make sure this issue doesn’t spread to the elbow ligament.
“We want to make sure that we protect, obviously, the elbow because obviously the forearm protects the elbow,” Cashman said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t lead to the more horrific problems that we’re trying to avoid.”
Tanaka said he doesn’t consider this to be an elbow issue. His wrist hurt, and he found out his forearm was slightly injured. That’s the immediate medical reality. The bigger medical reality is that the elbow is an issue that will linger over everything. The Yankees have treated Tanaka differently because of the elbow, and now they’re taking a typically cautious approach in an effort to further protect the elbow. This is nothing new, and Cashman said he still has no regrets about the way the Yankees have handled Tanaka’s health.
“Absolutely no regret because we’re following the medical directives,” Cashman said. “I can’t remember any time we’ve ever gone against doctors’ orders. Why would we? They’re the experts. We follow what they prescribe.”
What will the Yankees change going forward?
It seems, not much. Cashman said the team would have reacted the same way should any pitcher get this diagnosis at this point in the season. They’re typically conservative, and they follow their doctors’ advice, and so Tanaka is being shut down for seven to 10 days before beginning the slow return.
“Nothing really big came out from the MRI or anything,” Tanaka said. “So I feel that I can come back strong.”
Joe Girardi has said since spring training, and he said again today, that the Yankees won’t ask Tanaka to stop throwing his split-finger because the split-finger is a big part of what makes Tanaka effective. It’s just a cost of doing business. He’d been throwing splits since early spring, and there was no issue until today, and even today’s issue seems relatively minor and so far seems to come with no additional damage to the elbow. Pitchers get hurt, and so far, this pitcher’s been hurt quite a bit in his year-plus with the Yankees. There’s surely some relief that this isn’t an elbow issue, but it’s still an issue.
“The fact that I’m talking to you right now, I don’t feel like is a good thing,” Cashman said. “It’s good that the elbow is fine as of right now, and there’s no change there. Listen, I wanted him to make his next start (before discovering the injury), but we’re going to do the right course of action to make sure when he’s on that mound he’s able to be the best he can possibly be. Could he pitch? He can take the ball. Should he pitch? We’ll have to wait until he’s 100 percent.”
• After Chase Whitley pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, I tweeted that there was basically no circumstance in which Whitley would not be optioned tomorrow morning. Even if he pitched a complete game, I joked, he would still be sent down. Then this happened. “Right now he’s in our rotation,” Girardi said. “He will be here tomorrow.”
• Whitley nearly made the Yankees out of spring training, and tonight he finally got here and allowed one run through five innings. He pitched out of jams, struck out five, walked one and seems to made the most of this opportunity. “It feels good to be able to go out tonight and do my job,” Whitley said. “I’m not trying to look ahead to anything else, just pitch when and where they tell me to pitch.”
• Whitley was spot starting, and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable after pitching the past two nights, and the pitching staff still allowed just two runs with 12 strikeouts. “To do what they did tonight, they’re pitching in roles that they’re not accustomed to, and they’re all thriving,” Brian McCann said.
• Chris Martin got the first save of his big league career. He’s been a really nice find early in the season. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t (feel different in the ninth),” Martin said. “It was a little nerve racking, but I settled down there for the first hitter.”
• Interesting that Girardi went with Martin instead of David Carpenter in the ninth. Girardi said he was saving Carpenter for just in case the Rays came back to tie the game and force extra innings. With Miller, Betances and Justin Miller having each pitched back-to-back games, Carpenter would have been the last line of defense.
• Esmil Rogers went 2.2 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one hit. He struck out half the batters he faced. He’s really been terrific in that long relief role. “A tremendous outing out of Esmil Rogers,” Giradi said. “Comes in with a runner on third and one out and gets two outs; strikes out the first guy, Beckham, then gets a ground out and gets us to the ninth inning. And then Martin does a really good job as well.”
• Three consecutive 10-strikeout games for the Yankees pitching staff. They have 11 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, the most in the big leagues.
• Another big night at the plate for McCann who had two doubles and three RBI. Last night he had the big home run. “I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good all season long, to be honest with you. Hits are starting to fall and I’m finding the barrel.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury had his team-high eighth multi-hit game of the season. Since April 22 he’s hitting .429 with six runs and four stolen bases in six games.
• Ellsbury stole two bases tonight. Brett Gardner stole one. Those two are each hitting over .300 at the top of the order.
• Jose Pirela continued his Double-A rehab assignment and went 0-for-3 as Trenton’s starting second baseman. He was pulled for a defensive replacement in the bottom of the sixth, which I would assume is because the original plan was to have Pirela activated for tomorrow’s game in New York. Instead, Cashman said he’s expecting to bring back Petit.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka: “I was shocked because he said it was his wrist, and we had heard nothing in the five days that had led up to this. He threw his bullpen as scheduled he was ready to go tomorrow, so I was like, wow, it’s not what I expected. … We’re hoping that he gets the time off and he’s completely healthy. That’s what we’re hoping. It’s different than what he dealt with last year. He didn’t say nothing until today and he said that it was sore, he didn’t say it was bad. I was shocked when I heard it. It is what it is and you’ve got to deal with it.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi’s still not ready to name a closer, but it’s pretty obvious he has one. And he looks like a good one so far.
Andrew Miller is the first Yankees pitcher — of any title — to have eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.
“The only that’s maybe surprising is that Mariano didn’t have 19 saves in 20 games or something like that,” Miller said. “It just means we’re playing well as a team, and we’re getting good opportunities.”
Last night the bullpen went 4.2 hitless. Tonight it was 3.1 scoreless. Justin Wilson got his first win, Dellin Betances pitched a dominant eighth, and Miller handled the ninth. Somewhere in there, David Carpenter also got a key out.
It’s more or less the way Girardi’s been drawing it up for the past few weeks. Wilson against some middle-inning lefties (but willing to face righties), Carpenter for key seventh-inning outs, Betances in a setup role (often for more than three outs), and Miller in the closer role. Depending on situations, the Yankees have also gotten key strikeouts from Chris Martin, long relief from Esmil Rogers and whatever’s necessary from Chasen Shreve.
Do they have a closer?
“I still believe they both can do the job,” Girardi said. “It gives me a lot of options. It’s working the way we’re doing it. … (The plan is) just to stick with what we’re doing. I’m sure at some point one of them may be down and the other guy may have to do something else. Maybe they pitch a couple days in a row and I want to give one of them a day off. I still believe they’re really interchangeable.”
If Betances had pitched well this spring, or gotten off to a strong first week this season, would the roles be different? Would it have been a mix-and-match in the ninth, or maybe Miller in the eighth, or some other combination in various situations?
“It doesn’t really matter,” Girardi said.
That’s really the truth of the matter. Girardi doesn’t want to stick a label on Miller, because why should he? At this point, we all know the plan, we’ve seen it in action, and it’s worked.
“We all believe in each other, that’s the most important thing,” Betances said. “The staff believes in us, as well. Warren pitched a great game today, McCann put us on top and Miller closed the door. Everybody pitched excellent out of the bullpen, and I’m just trying to follow everybody’s lead, trying to match each other’s intensity.”
The Yankees are on a roll, and regardless of labels, the relievers are keeping it that way.
“I’ll put our guys up against anybody,” Brian McCann said. “The stuff that’s coming out of the bullpen is incredible.”
• The big offensive blow, obviously, was McCann’s go-ahead home run in the sixth. It was his second of the year, snapping a stretch of 40 at-bats without one. “I’ve been feeling good all year,” McCann said. “Obviously the numbers aren’t showing it, but I’ve been seeing the ball good from Opening Day.”
• McCann had a second hit tonight, but that one was a relatively soft single to the left side to beat the shift. The home run led to a run (obviously), but so did that single. “Brian is a good hitter, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be productive for us. Some of the guys take a little while to get going. He had two interesting hits tonight. One was a real big one and the other one was important, too. It gave us another run. I think he’s a middle-of-the-order hitter that’s going to be extremely productive.”
• Carlos Beltran also had a big hit with his hard double immediately after the McCann home run. Beltran has been, quite literally, the Yankees worst hitter this season, but Girardi has said he plans to stick with Belran as a regular in the lineup. Tonight it paid off. “I’m just working in the cage every day on my swing,” Beltran said. “It’ll have to come. I feel like the cage, I’ve been having good sessions. It’s about bringing it to the game.”
• The Yankees have now homered in 16 of their 20 games this season.
• Strong start for Adam Warren, who’s pitched very well ever since that brutal first inning in Detroit last week. He has pitched especially well in this stadium where he has a 1.71 ERA since the start of 2014. Of course, most of those outings came as a reliever. “I’m just trying to give the team a chance to win every time I go out there,” Warren said. “And I feel like I’ve done that. I think the big picture is: The team wins. For me, if I can give the team a chance to win after I go out there, that’s what I’m trying to prove.”
• Warren set a career high with six strikeouts, he almost matched the longest start of his career (which he also reached last time out in Detroit). “The first (start) I think I’ve had this year where I’ve had all four pitches working and I can locate them,” he said.
• Girardi on Warren: “I think he was ahead in the count a lot more tonight. I think that helped him, it kept his pitch count down. He was really aggressive. I thought he threw the ball extremely well; he used his curveball and slider well tonight, too. He got some early strikes with his curveball and did a nice job.”
• This was Wilson’s first win with the Yankees. He hadn’t picked up a win anywhere since July 12 of last season. He retired all three batters he faced. “When the phone rings and we’re told to get up, then that’s our time,” Wilson said. “Really, we just want to go out there and get outs.
• Betances has not allowed a hit in his past five appearances, a span of six innings in which he has one walk with 11 strikeouts.
• When did the season start to turn around for Betances? “The second time I pitched in Baltimore,” he said. “I felt my breaking ball was getting better and I was throwing it more for strikes. I felt a lot better after that.”
• Jose Pirela continued his rehab assignment today by playing second base for Double-A Trenton. I really wonder if the Yankees might option Gregorio Petit tomorrow to make room for Chase Whitley and then activate Pirela in time to play against a left-handed starter on Wednesday.
• Tough break for a really good guy: Brandon McCarthy is out for the year with a torn UCL. McCarthy was an obvious injury risk, but the Dodgers were willing to go four years with him. Looks like they’ll get maybe two and a half years out of that contract. Yankees showed some early interest but weren’t willing to a contract that big. Good call.
• Down in Trenton, Dan Pfeiffer reports the Yankees have released left-handed reliever Fred Lewis. Last spring, Lewis put himself on the map with a good big league camp, but he got off to a rough start last season and fell off the radar pretty quickly. Became thoroughly overshadowed in the organization’s upper-level bullpen depth.
• Final word goes to Girardi about moving into sole possession of first place: “It’s better than the alternative. Obviously we have a long way to go, but we’re playing a lot better baseball than we were the first time we were here. That’s a good thing. We just need to continue to do it.”
Associated Press photos
This afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka will start on normal rest for the first time this season. But in terms of evaluation, that’s not the only factor in play.
“I think you’re going to look at command today,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t know if you’re going to know if it’s because of the cold or if it’s because it’s on the fifth day. I think that’s going to be hard to predict. We saw command issues yesterday in two guys that really have good command. That’s what I’ll look for.”
Girardi said he’s heard a projected game-time temperature of 43 degrees. I doubt it will be snowing like it was in last night’s first inning, when both David Price and Adam Warren had a hard time. Girardi said there’s no heightened concern about Tanaka’s health in these conditions. The concern is more about simply holding and releasing the baseball.
“I don’t worry so much about his elbow as I worry about his grip on the baseball when it’s this cold,” Girardi said. “I think it can be very slippery on days like today, and I think around game time it’s going to be 43 (degrees), so we’ll just have to see how it goes. … You just try to keep your hands warm and rub up the baseball as much as you can to try to get some heat in the ball. That’s the best idea I have.”
It’s not just the breaking pitches. Girardi said a fastball can also be harder to control in these conditions. It’s just not a great day for baseball, but it’s late April, so there’s a game to be played.
“I have been in games that have been colded out, but it’s been below 30 degrees,” Girardi said. “You’re going to have to go through a few a year. It’s tough conditions, and sometimes you can avoid them some years, and sometimes you can’t. You have to play the games. The only way to avoid it would be not to start the season until May, and we know that’s not going to happen.”
• Little bit strange to see a catcher handle a day game after a night game, but Girardi said he planned coming into this series to have Brian McCann behind the plate this afternoon. “He’s playing extremely well,” Girardi said. “We talked about it, how we were going to do this week, and he feels good so I’m going to run him back out there.”
• No injury concerns with Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, just giving them a day off in this long stretch. He wasn’t planning to play either one 13 days in a row. “I just felt this was probably the best day to do it,” Girardi said.
• By sitting Rodriguez today, Girardi said he thinks he can play all six games of the upcoming home stand before getting a rest on the next scheduled off day.
• Bench coach Rob Thomson will coach third base again today. Joe Espada’s wife had a baby girl yesterday, so he’s away from the team.
• Brutal news for a nice guy: Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery. “He’s been really good, on really good teams,” Girardi said. “The thing you can say about Joe Nathan is that he was really tested, because he was on a ton of playoff teams and had a ton of success. It’s unfortunate what he’s going through and I don’t think any player really wants to go out that way. I’m not sure what he’ll do, being 40 years old, I’m sure there’s a lot of thought that maybe it’s his last pitch. Maybe he’ll try to come back, and god bless him if he does. But Joe Nathan’s a winner, and he’s used to winning, and it’s got to be extremely frustrating.”
• If the Yankees win today, they’ll wrap up a tremendous week on the road against Tampa Bay and Detroit. If they hadn’t blown a game in Baltimore, it would be an awfully success trip regardless of today’s result. “It would be a tremendous road trip to go 7-3 in these three cities that we went to,” Girardi said. “Good baseball teams, so obviously it would be a tremendous road trip.”
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league complete game shutout came on May 14 of last season. It was at Citi Field, and Chris Young was one of Tanaka’s eight strikeouts that day.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re at the plate,” Young explained tonight. “There’s really no way to have a legit approach against him. You can get anything in any count, and that makes him really tough.”
Manager Joe Girardi’s most common critique through Tanaka’s first two starts this season was that Tanaka had yet to pitch a game with all of his weapons. Couldn’t locate his fastball quite right. Didn’t quite have his breaking balls working. It’s the total package that makes Tanaka so effective, and he had not shown his full arsenal until tonight.
Seven innings. Two hits. No walks. Eight strikeouts. All on just 85 pitches, a start that surely would have gone longer had the Yankees not spent so much time scoring runs in the seventh that Tanaka had to throw to stay loose on the bench.
“I thought he had all his pitches tonight, which was the big difference,” Girardi said. “He located his fastball. He elevated it as well. He used his curveball, his slider and his split really effectively, and that’s the difference. When you have all your weapons you usually are going to go deeper into the game.”
Tanaka cruised tonight. At one point he struck out seven of 10 batters. He retired 15 in a row. He clearly had enough to go at least eight innings tonight, maybe even the full nine if the Yankees wanted to push his pitch count above 100. His fastball, according to the stadium gun, regularly hit 92 mph and topped out at 94. He got swings and misses with his split, but seemed just as capable of finishing off at-bats with his slider.
“He was better,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The command of the fastball was better. I thought he had a better downhill plane on it, and threw some fastballs down and away to the spot to right handers very well. That means that he’s getting through pitches pretty well. I think it’s a real good step in the right direction.”
Brian McCann singled out Tanaka’s slider for having better tilt. Tanaka himself said he was most pleased with his fastball, and said the difference came down to better mechanics.
“He did whatever he wanted tonight with the baseball,” McCann said. “He (had) sink and cut. He put his curveball in there for a strike whenever he wanted to. … I feel like this is what he’s been doing since he got over here. I mean, I really do. There’s no questions in here about it. The guys that are in this clubhouse, that watch him prepare on a daily basis, that see him go about his business, (all believe) he’s ready to go.”
That’s what the Yankees have been saying since the end of spring training. But saying it is one thing. Seeing it is another.
Tonight they saw it.
“I think it’s really important for him to see when I have my stuff, I’m going to pitch extremely well,” Girardi said. “And that’s what he did tonight. … In life, you need to have some success or you get frustrated with yourself. I hadn’t noticed any (lack of confidence). His confidence has been fine. He’s been the same person to me, but we all want to have success.”
• Rothschild said the Yankees still haven’t decided whether Tanaka will take his next turn on five days or six days rest. Girardi said the Yankees definitely plan to have Tanaka pitch on five days rest at some point, they just aren’t sure whether it will happen this turn. “We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow,” Rothschild said. “And then we have to decide to go the fifth day or the sixth day.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira were each pulled from the game in the late innings, but both were strictly because the game was so lopsided and it was worth getting them off their feet a little earlier. No new injuries, Girardi said.
• Huge game for McCann who became the first Yankees player to have a triple this season. He’s currently the team leader in that category. I know because McCann asked a bunch of writers to look it up and make sure no other Yankee had a triple so far. Kept bragging — as a joke — about his blinding speed. McCann has four triples in his career. “When you’ve got speed, you don’t have stop signs,” he said.
• McCann is now 8-for-13 with two home runs, a double, a triple and six RBI in his career against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. The rest of the Yankees had two singles against Odorizzi tonight. McCann went 3-for-3 against him. “With some people, the numbers stack up,” McCann said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight I was able to get some pitches up in the zone and not miss it.”
• As a result of his big night, McCann’s batting average jumped from .179 to .250. “I’ve been feeling good at the plate since Opening Day,” he said. “It’s early in the season. A couple of hits fall here and there and it’s a different story. I’ve been feeling good at the plate.”
• Aside from McCann’s triple, the other big hit of the night was Chris Young’s grand slam off Grant Balfour. A grand slam is great,” Young said. “But it’s not what’s in your mind when you’re at the plate, especially the way my at-bat started tonight. I had a couple of bad swings on sliders in the dirt, so I was just trying to grind, battle, try to work a walk, a base hit. He happened to leave one up on me.”
• Young’s was the Yankees’ second grand slam of the season following Stephen Drew’s, which came earlier in the week in Baltimore. It was Young’s third career grand slam. Young, Drew and Mark Teixeira are now tied for the second-most home runs on the team with three apiece.
• After the game, the Rays designated Balfour for assignment. Rough night.
• Brett Gardner made his first start since being hit by a pitch on Monday. He reached base three times and stole a base twice. He has three stolen bases this season, all in the past two days. This was Gardner’s first multi-steal game since May 30 of last year.
• Branden Pinder struck out the first batter he faced in the ninth for his first career strikeout. Pinder said yesterday that he had a lot of family flying to Tampa for this series, so I assume that explains the people going nuts in the stands after that strikeout. It was a rough inning from there — he walked two and had the bases loaded before finally ending it — but Pinder got through it without the Yankees having to bring in Chris Martin, who was getting loose.
• By the way, Pinder was called for a balk in the ninth inning. I didn’t see anything, and Girardi said he had no idea what happened to cause the balk call. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Girardi said.
• Final word goes to Young: “The biggest thing for all of us today collectively, we were able to make the adjustment off chasing too many pitches and kind of take our walks and put ourselves in a position to have a big inning. I think the biggest thing for us was the walks. Granted, Mac had the big hit, I had a hit as well in a big situation, but the walks kind of put you in that situation. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up to you.”
Associated Press photos
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos
For good reason, there’s already been plenty of talk in Yankees camp about the defensive shift. Not about the ways the Yankees might use the shift this season, but about the ways the might try to beat it.
“We’ve talked about it as an organization,” Joe Girardi said. “We will discuss things with players. This is the adjustment defenses have made, and we need to make (offensive) adjustments too. I’m not asking you to be something you’re not. I’m not going to ask you to do something that you’re not comfortable doing, but it’s something that we need to have discussions about and see how we attack it.”
Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira in particular have lost plenty of hits because of shifted infielders. Their thoughts:
McCann: “I want to hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s not necessarily that I’m going to try to go up there and hit the ball to left field. If it’s away from me, it needs to go to left field. If they come in on me, I need to be able to pull it, but pull correctly. If you pull correctly, you create back spin which is going to help you hit home runs. … If I hit two or three singles in a row to left field, they’re going to continue to play the shift because that’s where my power is. That’s just the way it is and whether that takes a couple of points off my batting average, if I take the approach I have day in and day out for 500 at-bats, at the end of the year things will be there.”
Teixeira: “Thoughts on (beating) the shift? Hit more home runs, hit more doubles, and walk more. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody. That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter. So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift. I don’t want to ground out to second base. That’s not what I’m trying to do up there.”
It goes without saying that it’s good to use the whole field, good to take what the defense is giving, and it’s bad to hit ground balls to an area crowded with defenders. The Yankees obviously agree with those principles, but they also seem focused on sticking with a player’s strengths.
“The biggest thing for me is don’t let it get in your head and don’t force things,” new hitting coach Jeff Pentland said today. “Obviously the ability to use the whole field is important. I’m not going to stand here and tell you we’re going to try to force things through the infield or through the shift. We’ve still got to go up there and hit the ball, but there are things we’ll spend time on.”
• Girardi met face-to-face with Alex Rodriguez today. Girardi said he told A-Rod that he would get all the spring at-bats “that he could physically handle.” Girardi also told Rodriguez that he would play some third base this spring, and formally asked him to get some reps at first base. “He’s willing to do anything,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira on working with Rodriguez: “I’m looking forward to working with him over there. Alex and I have been friends for a long time now. I’ll enjoy working with him over there. It’s funny; I was a rookie when Alex was the best player in the world. He got to teach me some things, and now I’m going to be able to teach him some things at first.”
• According to Girardi, the plan is for Rodriguez to play in either the first or second game this spring. The Yankees will not hold him out of games when the exhibition schedule starts. They want him to start getting at-bats right away.
• Pentland on Rodriguez: “I’ve always been a big fan of Alex, are you kidding? … I don’t think he’s going to have that many issues. He was born to hit. That’s the way I feel about him.”
• As usual, Girardi said the Yankees have reached out to National League teams for permission to use a designated hitter in road games against N.L. teams in spring training. Typically, teams are perfectly happy to do that in the first half of the spring schedule. Girardi said some teams aren’t willing to do it as the schedule gets closer to Opening Day. I would expect, though, that there will be a DH when the Yankees open the exhibition schedule against the Phillies on Tuesday.
• Mariano Rivera is expected to be in Yankees camp for nine or 10 days. “He has free rein to help out as much as he can,” Girardi said. “I think the advice that he’ll give young players should be something they should listen to.”
• In full uniform, Rivera watched bullpens and then shagged some fly balls today. I wouldn’t hold out hope for an Andy Pettitte-like return, but it’s hard not to think of it. “I joked with him,” Girardi said. “I said, ‘The last time a guy like you came to spring training, he made two days of coaches meetings and then he went home for three days and decided he wanted to pitch again. So I’m just curious to see how long you’re going to make it in our meetings.’”
• I watched Gary Tuck leading catching drills for a while this afternoon. That group gets pretty intense, and both Joe Girardi and Tony Pena seem to love watching it. Worth noting that each day the Yankees update a contest for which catchers have the fewest drops in camp so far. Right now, three catchers still have zero, and it’s the three big league guys: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine.
• Pitchers going to the minor league complex to face hitters tomorrow: Andrew Miller, Adam Warren, Jose Ramirez, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno, James Pazos and Danny Burawa. Austin Romine is heading over there with them, presumably to catch some guys.
• Final word goes to Teixeira: “We have the talent in here. There’s a lot of teams that would love to have our roster right now. It takes talent, it takes health, it takes execution. We have the talent, so it’s the health and execution are the ones we’re going to work on this year. I think we all believe in each other here.”
Associated Press photos
Two things you don’t hear about very often: The positive side of Brian McCann’s 2014 season, and the surprising impact of a bullpen coach who specializes in working with catchers.
Each of those topics came up when McCann addressed the media this afternoon.
“I didn’t have a good year for me (last season),” McCann said. “I don’t feel like that’s the player I am. I feel like I’m better than the way I hit last year, (but) that’s the best I’ve ever caught for a full season. Gary Tuck, this guy is top of the game. He’s No. 1 in teaching catching. He opened my eyes up to a whole another world, and I was able to translate that on the field.”
McCann does still get positive reviews for his ability behind the plate. He’s good at framing pitches, and the Yankees staff seems to trust and respect him. He’s also working with a coaching staff that knows a few things about what makes a good catcher. Joe Girardi and Tony Pena were each long-time regulars in the big leagues, and Tuck has built a reputation for his ability to teach the position.
“I think it’s (McCann’s) ability to get the most out of his pitchers (that stands out),” Girardi said. “His ability to teach young pitchers and help them recognize what their strengths are, and to use those strengths to exploit weaknesses on the batters. I think he does a really, really good job. He’s a calming influence back there. You don’t see him get too worked up, and I think he’s easy to communicate with. So that’s a pretty good package for a catcher. … You see the really good catchers, they have that ability. They have the ability to get the most out of their pitchers. And I think if you look at our staff last year, I think you could say that about Brian.”
Associated Press photo
There was nothing jarring about seeing CC Sabathia in the Yankees clubhouse this morning. He didn’t look unusual, and the fact he’d put on weight — while obvious as soon as someone mentioned it — never occurred to me while I talked to him. He just looked … normal.
“I lost a bunch of weight drastically, pretty quick, two years ago,” he said. “Kind of was off balance and didn’t know really how my body was working. So just talking to Dr. Ahmad and to the trainers, I feel like this is a good weight.”
Sabathia said he wants to be between 295 and 305 pounds this season. He said it’s not at all the heaviest he’s ever been, but he’s intentionally put on a lot of the weight he lost the past two offseasons. As you might recall, there was some talk about Sabathia’s weight loss when he struggled through the 2013 season, and there was more talk about it when he reported to camp last spring.
In retrospect, it’s interesting to look back at this quote from an unnamed talent evaluator. It comes from August, 2013, when unusually skinny Sabathia had an unusually large 4.73 ERA. As told to the Boston Globe:
The weight loss has created a balance problem for him. He’s all over the place. He’s learning how to pitch in that body, a body he’s really never had. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him other than that. Sometimes you pitch at a certain weight all your life and then someone has the brilliant idea that you should lose weight because it’s putting stress on your knees, you do it, and then you’re dealing with something else.
Indeed, Sabathia’s past weight issues might have played a role in the degenerative knee problem that caused him to miss most of last season, but slimming down wasn’t enough to avoid surgery, and Sabathia simply wasn’t as good at a diminished weight. Was that the cause of his lackluster 2013 and his slow start before the injury in 2014? Pretty much impossible to say, but it would make sense. Pitching is about repetition, and Sabathia changed the very core of his balance and mechanics.
“I think I was just trying to find a good weight to play at,” he said. “I think last year I came in a little too light. By the end of the year last year, I felt good in where I was at. In the offseason I put on 10 more pounds, and I’ll work that off over the course of the season.”
To me, Sabathia looked unusual last year. This year, he looked like his old self. If he can look that way on the mound as well, I doubt anyone will care too much about how he’s tipping the scales.
“We’re comfortable with where he’s at,” Joe Girardi said. “The big thing for us is to keep him out there; that’s what we have to do on a consistent basis, so he can build off of each start. I have no concerns about that.”
• Girardi acknowledged today that the Yankees will “do things more in this spring training” to teach hitters to beat the defensive shift. That said, it seems the Yankees aren’t looking to force anything. “They’ve spent a long time in their career learning how to hit a certain way,” Girardi said. “And then once people start to defense it different, it’s not easy just to switch. You can work on bunting. You can work on hitting the ball the other way. Those are the two things that you can try. You don’t want to take a guy out of his comfort zone and make him something he’s not and have him lose confidence, but those are things that you will work on in spring training.”
• Among those most affected by the shift is Brian McCann: “I want to hit the ball where it’s pitched,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that I’m going to try to go up there and hit the ball to left field. If it’s away from me, it needs to go to left field. If they come in on me, I need to be able to pull it, but pull correctly. If you pull correctly, you create back spin which is going to help you hit home runs. … If I hit two or three singles in a row to left field, they’re going to continue to play the shift because that’s where my power is. That’s just the way it is and whether that takes a couple of points off my batting average, if I take the approach I have day in and day out for 500 at-bats, at the end of the year things will be there.”
• Actually, McCann says the shift wasn’t the biggest factor in last year’s disappointing numbers. “My bat path last year got out of whack, for whatever reason,” he said. “I had to go back this offseason and kind of study what I was doing wrong. I was able to pinpoint what the problem was and I feel good coming into camp. … The whole reason I went down to no toe tap (last year) was, I lost my bat path. I wasn’t using my hands. Spreading out, I was able to start slapping the ball around a little bit, and I didn’t have much power like that. But then when I stood back up tall, my hands started working again. At the end of the year, I felt like I was able to start driving the baseball like I should be.”
• Speaking of McCann, he caught only one bullpen today, but it was a new guy with whom he’s pretty familiar. McCann caught David Carpenter, his Atlanta teammate in 2013. “I think we were able to let him understand more about how to pitch,” McCann said. “What certain situations bring and just kind of diving into the game a little bit more. He was able to do that and posted a 1.70 or whatever it was. He was our setup guy for Kimbrel. We expect big things this year.”
• McCann said he was sent 10 to 15 video clips of every new Yankees pitcher this offseason, and the “clips” must have been pretty long. McCann said he feels like he saw “pretty much” every 2014 outing of every new reliever.
• Carlos Beltran went through outfield drills with Rob Thomson, and he took batting practice with McCann and the two catchers competing for the big league backup job.
• At least among media, three pitchers clearly generated the most attention during today’s bullpens: The first was Sabathia, the last was Jacob Lindgren, and in the middle was Luis Severino. “It’s a live arm,” Girardi said. “It’s a player that is bigger in (stature) than I thought when I heard some of the comparisons. He’s bigger than I thought. A lot of times you worry about the rigors of players that are extremely thin, but he’s a strong young kid, I believe, with a lot of talent.”
• The Yankees have hired former Angels outfielder Reggie Willits to be their minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator. He’ll be one of several minor league coaches working with the players in big league camp this spring.
• Former Yankees currently listed as guest instructors for this spring: Eric Chavez, Billy Connors, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill and Andy Pettitte.
• Final word on Workout 1 goes to Girardi: “There’s a collection of good young arms here. Obviously there’s guys that you’ve seen, but you look at the younger players that we had a chance to look at today. Those are some pretty good arms. And it’s not just from one side. It’s not just right-handed or left-handed, it’s both. And that’s exciting to us.”
Associated Press photos
A few mid-day notes on this Friday afternoon:
• Bob Klapisch wrote about the difficult position of Joe Girardi, who’s once again stuck in the middle of the Yankees’ tension with Alex Rodriguez. I tend to think Girardi’s been terrific at handling that middle ground in the past. The part of Klapisch’s column that stands out, though, is this: “This isn’t the first time Girardi has been caught in the crossfire. Sources say he was in favor of dropping Derek Jeter in the batting order last year, but was overruled by ownership. Girardi understood how explosive the issue was, especially because, according to those same sources, Jeter made it known he wanted to remain in the No. 2 spot.”
• Speaking of Jeter, The Associated Press reports that the retired Yankees shortstop missed his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame because of “serious plane issues.” That’s according to Hall of Fame officials. An inductee must be present to be inducted, so Jeter will now enter the Michigan Hall with the 2016 class. The Free Press says he has already committed to attending next year’s ceremony.
• New Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi is already in Tampa working with Larry Rothschild. Considering Eovaldi already throws extremely hard but has relatively modest strikeout numbers, it’s little surprise he says offspeed pitches have been his primary focus with Rothschild. “I controlled my walks (last season),” Eovaldi told Dan Martin, “but my ERA was a lot higher than I’d like it to have been. And I gave up too many hits.” Michael Pineda is also already in Tampa, focused on staying healthy (and staying away from the pine tar).
• Although he’s apparently not yet in Tampa, Brian McCann spoke to Ken Davidoff about trying to beat the shift that so thoroughly crushed his batting average last season. McCann said he went into this offseason recognizing “it’s time for me to make that adjustment.” One interesting idea McCann mentioned: He suggested to the Yankees that Brett Gardner shift from left field to right field any time there’s a left-handed pull hitter at the plate.
• As you probably already know, Yoan Moncada is expected to pick a team within a week or so. His agent has said Moncada would like to sign by February 23. At this point, it seems all of baseball agrees on his talent, it’s only a question of which team will be willing to commit an incredible amount of money on such a young, relatively inexperienced player. The Yankees, of course, are heavily in that mix. For now the Yankees seem less involved in another Cuban infielder, Hector Olivera, who’s older and would presumably open this season in the big leagues as either a second baseman or third baseman. The Yankees have not regularly popped up as an Olivera favorite like they have with Moncada.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson • 02.13.15
Quick and to the point, today’s Pinch Hitter sent a one-line bio: “Tyler is a life-long Yankee fan and an attorney in Washington, D.C.” That’s Tyler Patterson in an incredibly small nutshell. Perhaps he kept the bio so short because he was saving so many words for his actual post.
As for his post, he calls it: “The 2015 Yankees and Elite Team Defense.”
Inspired by Ruth, Gehrig, and many, many others, the Yankees at their best are an offensive juggernaut. Not to mitigate the team’s past pitching accomplishments (indeed, some old-time Yankee pitchers are criminally underrated) but success for the Yankees has been predominantly associated with the organization’s offensive prowess over the years. Such is the case for the teams that the organization has fielded since 1995, the first year I, like many other millennials, began watching the team.
I challenge anyone to name me a Yankee club since the 1995 season that has been known for its defense (in a positive manner). I know I can’t do it. Not that the Yankees haven’t fielded stout defensive teams since 1995, but the point is that defense is just not what the Yankees are ever known for. And when you look past player reputations and at the numbers, it is not difficult to understand why.
For example, recently retired Yankees legend Derek Jeter is easily one of the greatest shortstops in MLB history and one of the greatest Yankees of all time. However, none of that was due to his defense. For his career, Jeter had a TZ of -129, a DRS of -159 and a UZR/150 of -7.1. If you do not know what any of these stats are, that’s fine. As you might guess, all those negatives indicate Jeter was not a strong fielder. This jives with the traditional eye-test as well, the jump-throws and Gold Glove awards aside.
The same can be said about many other Yankees since 1995 (Williams, Posada, Giambi, O’Neill, Soriano, Sheffield). None of these players was an especially good fielder, and the list goes on. Very few Yankees since 1995 were great (or in most cases, even average) fielders. In fact, from 1995 through the 2014 season, the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball with a Def rating of -440.8 (Def, as calculated by FanGraphs, is a combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average [fielding runs] and positional value relative to other positions [positional adjustment]). The next worst club, the Cubs, had a Def of -308.5.
Since 1995, the Yankees cumulatively have been far and away the worst defensive squad in all of baseball.
That being said, the Yankees have showed marked improvement in team defense in the past several seasons. For example, the Yankees’ Def in 2013 was 21.4 and in 2014, 10.8.
This trend should continue in 2015, a season in which the Yankees might easily field their best defensive team since 1995.
The Yankees have made a conscious effort to get younger and cheaper wherever they can, and in baseball’s current suppressed run environment, the Yankees have realized that it is easier to upgrade the roster defensively rather than offensively. That is not to say there is not offensive upside to some of the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions, but improved team defense has certainly been on the mind of the front office, especially during the last two offseasons.
Let us run through the 2014 squad position by position and compare it to the projected team for the upcoming season. It is clear that the 2015 squad projects to be fantastic defensively, perhaps the best defensive team since 1995.
McCann is the Yankees’ catcher for the foreseeable future after the team signed him to a five-year deal following the 2013 season. He saw the bulk of the work behind the plate in 2014 and did not disappoint, at least defensively. McCann is a world-class defender and one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. His Def of 11.5 in 2014 was exactly what the Yankees signed up for, as was his pitch-framing performance (11.4 Runs Above Average, good for 11th in MLB. This represents a “down” year for McCann, who is consistently top 10 in MLB every season in this category). Long story short, McCann is an elite defensive backstop, and he projects to continue to be so, as his 2015 projected Def of 8.8 illustrates.
Backing up McCann will presumably be Murphy, who anyone will tell you is an above average defender behind the plate. The Yankees have been emphasizing catcher defense for some time now, and with Murphy (and McCann for that matter) the Yankees continue the trend. It is not actually settled who will be the Yankee backup catcher, as Austin Romine will also be “competing” for the role in spring training, but my money is on Murphy with Romine being dealt or placed on waivers. Murphy is clearly the better player, both defensively and offensively.
Obviously, Teixeira will be the Yankees’ first baseman in 2015, at least until the obligatory injury. Unlike last year, the Yankees have a back-up first baseman on their roster in Jones, although his defensive abilities leave a lot to be desired. First base, like catcher, is a position where I do not put too much stock in advanced statistics because, at least in my experience, the stats do not measure up to the eye test. Teixeira is a perfect example of this. Teixeira has had a pretty consistent negative Def rating throughout his career, and last season was no different, as his -3.6 shows. His UZR/150, however, was 7.1 last season and has been consistently positive in his career. That jives more with my perception of Teixeira and my experience watching him pretty regularly since 2009, but it is also obvious confirmation bias.
Either way, I’m not the only one who will tell you Tex is at least an average defender at first, and probably slightly above average. I expect no different in 2015, so long as he can stay on the field (a BIG if in his age-35 season). If injured, the aforementioned Jones figures to man first base. He is projected for a -9.1 Def, which is not very good, and unlike Teixeira, the eye-test does not save Jones; he has never been thought of as a strong defender, and the stats back that up. Let’s hope Teixeira remains healthy. Or, if not, that Greg Bird is mauling in Trenton and gets a call. Unlikely, but I can dream.
Offensively, second base was a mess for the Yankees last season until they dealt for Martin Prado, who was fantastic in his 37 games for the Yankees (his true value was as trade bait, allowing the Yankees to obtain Jones and Nathan Eovaldi). Defensively, however, the myriad of players the Yankees played at second combined for a -1.9 Def, which is not awful but not great either. A carryover from last season, Drew, was signed to a no-risk, one-year, $5-million deal to hold second base down until Refsnyder is ready to permanently take over (or until the Yankees gain another year of team control by manipulating Refsnyder’s service time).
Drew’s calling card in his career has been his defense at short, which has always been excellent. There is no reason to think that, save for a minor adjustment period, he will not be able to excel at the less-demanding second base position. A legitimate reason why the Yankees may not, as of this moment, be comfortable opening the 2015 season with Refsnyder as their everyday second basemen is his defense. A converted outfielder, Refsnyder has taken to second base well, but there is certainly room for improvement. The scouting reports peg Refsnyder as an average defensive second baseman at best, but combined with Drew’s projected performance, as well as Brendan Ryan’s skill as the infield backup, the team’s second base defense should be at least as good as it was last year, and probably much better. Backing up either of these players will be Ryan, a world-class defensive infielder.
We have already discussed Jeter’s defensive shortcomings, and last season was no different as he compiled a -4.0 Def, a -12.5 UZR/150, and a -12 DRS. By any measure Jeter was a very, very bad fielder last season. His replacement this season will be Gregorius, who projects to compile a 4.3 Def, a huge improvement over 2014 Jeter.
Gregorius has a reputation as being a strong defender with excellent range and a cannon for an arm, and let’s hope we see that in 2015. Under team control for the next several seasons, the position is Gregorius’s to lose (at least until Jorge Mateo is ready to take over) and the Yankees will give him every opportunity to be their everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future. Having Chase Headley manning third base will also make his job much easier, allowing Gregorius to shade up the middle more so than he normally would.
The Yankees opened 2014 with Kelly Johnson as their starting third baseman, and the position was a mess until Headley was acquired before the trade deadline. Signed to a four-year deal this offseason (at a below market rate), Headley is the Yankees’ third basemen moving forward. From a defensive standpoint, the Yankees are set. In only 58 games with the team last year, Headley compiled a 12.4 Def and has been an absolute defensive stud throughout his career.
Combined with Gregorius, the defense on the left side of the infield will be among the best in baseball. Like second base, third base was not as bad defensively as I thought it was in 2014 (thanks mainly to Headley), but with Headley in pinstripes for an entire season, third-base defense will be an absolute strength for the 2015 squad. Headley is among the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball, and it will be fun watching him man the hot corner for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.
Gardner was signed to a team-friendly four-year deal that begins this season, and barring a trade (which I do not think is out of the question) he will be the Yankees’ left fielder in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. Gardner is a superb defender in any outfield position, and left field is no different. It is important for the Yankees to man left field with a strong defender given the stadium’s dimensions, and Gardner handles it about as well as a player can. Because of this, he has more value to the Yankees than most other (if not all) teams.
Look for Gardner to continue his defensive excellence, giving the Yankees another above-average defended position. He also serves as a backup to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, further adding to Gardner’s value.
In the second year of a seven-year deal he signed prior to the 2014 season, Ellsbury will once again man center field. There is not much to say here, as Ellsbury has always been a very strong defensive center fielder, and 2015 projects to be no different.
This gives the Yankees yet another position fielded by an above-average defender.
Right field is the only position on the diamond I believe the Yankees will field below-average defenders in 2015. Last season, Beltran projected to be the everyday right fielder. Long gone are the years when Beltran was an elite defender in center field. Since 2009, Beltran has been a below-average fielder wherever he has played, mainly in right, and 2015 projects to be no different. Beltran suffered a myriad of injuries in 2014, and the Yankees were forced to play multiple players in right as a result. I expect the Yankees to DH Beltran quite a bit this season due to his age and the fact that he can still hit plenty when healthy. That will leave Young to get plenty of reps in right in 2015, especially against lefties as he is a career 116 wRC+ hitter against them.
Projection wise, Beltran sits at a -11.8 Def for 2015, while Young sits at a -2.2 Def. It is important to note that there is not a lot of room in right field in Yankee stadium, so bad defense in right for the Yankees is far less detrimental than it would be to, say, the Athletics or Padres. This is also a reason why I tend to shy away from advanced defensive statistics for Yankees’ right fielders, but I digress. The stats back up the eye tests for both Beltran and Young.
I am not going to analyze Ryan or Young any more than I already have because the backup infielder and fourth outfielder positions are very fluid on every team in baseball and it would not be a shock if Ryan and/or Young end the 2015 season off the active roster. That being said, the Yankees project to field an exceptional defensive squad in 2015 and, save for right field, will have at least an average fielder at every position.
In an era where run scoring is down significantly due mainly to an ever-expanding strike zone, it is far easier to upgrade pitching and defense. The Yankees have done a very, very good job upgrading team defense the past two offseasons, and it should be fun to watch.
Associated Press photos