Monday, October 12, 2015

A Bad Feeling About 2016

I want to be optimistic about next season. I really do. This is especially true after the team got my hopes up in the 1st half of the season, only to stumble into the Wild Card game. It also doesn't help that I'm not a patient person. But, alas, I don't have a good feeling about 2016.

"I've been looking through this thing for hours, and I still don't see anything good."

While there are teams that were good, and could very well get better next year, the Yankees are not one of them. Let's face it... the team is unlikely to change.

Let's start by taking a look at players that are either under contract or team control, and will probably be regulars in the starting lineup....

Catcher  - Brian McCann
1st Base - Mark Teixeira
3rd Base - Chase Headley
Shortstop - Didi Gregorius
Left Field - Brett Gardner
Center Field - Jacoby Ellsbury
Right Field - Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter - Alex Rodriguez

The only position that's not set right now is 2nd base, and while anybody would be better than giving Stephen Drew another 428 plate appearances, chances are it won't make much difference.

Drew's bWAR this past season was 0.3, while Ben Zobrist had the highest bWAR among upcoming free agent 2nd basemen at 2.9. For argument's sake, let's say Zobrist would be worth 3 more wins thanks to the upgrade. That would give the Yankees 90 wins, which would probably not be good enough to win the division, leading to another winner-take-all Wild Card game.

No thanks.

Speaking of improving at one position, and the team getting better, you have to assume the other eight hitters produce like they did this past season. That's no certainty.

Carlos Beltran's poor 2014 season for the Yankees was easily his worst since 2005, which could simply mean it was an aberration. But the guy will turn 39 in April. I don't think his best case scenario next year is to be better. No, his best case scenario is to simply not be to be any worse.

Then we have Alex Rodriguez, who may be healthier now than he's been in years. Along with that he might not be as dumb as he once was, either. But you know what would be more surprising than his 2015 season was? Him having a better 2016 season. Again, like Beltran, his best case scenario for next year is probably that he doesn't get worse.

Next we have Mark Teixeira. Sure, Mark is not exactly old, as he'll turn 36 in April. Then again, he's far from being part of the Yankees' youth movement. So I can't really buy into that 146 OPS+ continuing for another season. Mark's slugging percentage was over .500 for the first time since 2009, and that's easily where the largest chunk of his value comes from. If that power goes back to the 2010-2012 levels (average SLG of .484), then we're going to hear much more about his defense next year than his offense.

When it comes to players that are unlikely to improve next year, you can add Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Didi Gregorius.

McCann's OPS+ of 107, while better than the 93 he put up last year, was still pretty darn low for him considering the fact that it was 118 the year before joining the Yankees. That might make you think he could be better, but it's hard for me to believe somebody on the wrong side of 30 is going to get better. It's possible, but hard to count on.

Gardner's OPS+ of 105 was lower than the 110 he put up in each of the previous two seasons, but he's actually older than McCann is. Brett's game relies on his legs, and in case you aren't aware, a person's legs tend to get worse as they get older... not better.

I'm a fan of Didi Gregorius, but that doesn't mean I'm fooling myself into thinking he's a future All Star. Despite Yankees fans generally being pleased with their new shortstop, Didi's OPS+ was still only 90. His batting average of .265 was well above the .226 he had in 2014, while his slugging percentage was about the same (.370 vs. .373). So the only place I can see him getting better is in the on-base percentage department, which won't do a whole lot of good when he's hitting at the bottom of the lineup.

But it's not all bad. I believe Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury can hit better.

"I knew he couldn't stay negative for long."
"Hold on, buddy."

The days of Headley finishing in the top 5 of MVP voting are long over with. So while he could improve upon that 92 OPS+ he had this season, it likely won't get much higher than the 101 he put up in 2014. At the same time, there's a good chance Ellsbury's OPS+ is better than the 84 he put up this year, but will probably not get any higher than the 110 he put up the previous season.

So you can take that smug look of yours and... use your imagination.

I think that about covers the offensive side of things. So how about the starting rotation?

The good news is that the starting rotation for next season already has plenty of options... Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell. Yeah, I said it has plenty of options. I didn't say those options make for a strong rotation.

I will admit to feeling pretty good about Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. However, those guys are not a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Don't get me wrong, they aren't bad up there, but you have to wonder what will happen with Severino after the league sees him a little more. Plus, Tanaka's strikeout rate went down quite a bit (9.3 K/9 in 2014 to 8.1 K/9 in 2015).

Despite having an ERA of 5.80 in the second half, I think Michael Pineda should be a solid starter next season. Will he be a #2 like some of us thought going into this season? I'm not holding out a ton of hope. But I believe he'd make a really good #4.

Those three guys would make me comfortable in the 2-4 spots in the rotation, but as of now we're looking at 1-3. Which leaves the last two spots for Sabathia (2015: 4.73 ERA), Nova (2015: 5.07 ERA), Mitchell (5.13 ERA in his MLB career, and only 3 starts), Eovaldi (has given up 10 or more hits per 9 innings in his past two seasons), and Warren.

I'm going to give Adam Warren his own paragraph, because he may very well be the only player on the 2016 Yankees that actually helps make the team better. Adam's got a 3.98 ERA in 20 MLB starts. Now, his strikeout rate is a tad low as a starter (6.4 K/9), but I think it may be time to see what the guy can do. Heck, he's already 28 years old, so it's time to put up or shut up with him.

Oh, and speaking of pitcher, I loved reading about Jeff Samardzija. Not because I think he's awesome, but because the Division Series has just started. Let's at least wait until the World Series is over before we start spreading rumors around.

The fact of the matter is that unless Brian Cashman is able to trade away an outfielder to open up a spot for somebody like Jason Heyward, along with making room for even a Jeff Samardzija or... oh would this be nice... David Price, then you're unlikely to see me be very optimistic before Opening Day.

I'm sure to try, as the Yankees may only add another reliever or two, but a stronger bullpen is not going to turn this team from one that barely makes the postseason to one that is a true World Series contender.

"So, Mr. Cashman... are you up to the challenge?"

2015 Yankees: Rob Refsnyder MiLB Highlights

Mostly from his time at Double-A with the Trenton Thunder

Most Popular Article of the Week: Making the Case to Trade Michael Pineda

"Got traded... see ya guys." - Michael Pineda

The New York Yankees and GM Brian Cashman ruffled the feathers of the league when they traded then top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for an up-and-coming pitcher named Michael Pineda. It took a while for New York to reap some of the benefits of having the young right-hander, Pineda missed the entire 2012 and 2013 season with shoulder issues and missed some of the 2014 season with arm trouble as well, but finally got a long look at what they traded for in 2015. At times Pineda looked to be the ace of the staff and the savior for the team and at other times I wouldn’t have personally given up Jesus Montero’s mother for him in a trade. All in all though Pineda finished the season with a 12-10 record and a 4.37 ERA as he prepares to enter salary arbitration for the first time in his career. Is it time to sell “high” on Pineda and his two seasons of team control?

Pineda is a young talent that just can’t seem to stay healthy nor can he remain effective. Excuses are thrown around that Joe Girardi wasn’t giving him enough rest or was giving him too much rest of that someone messed with his Buddha statue named Jobu in his locker (Pedro Cerrano reference) and not enough results to really back him up on anything. After basically a full season and a glimpse into the future I’m not sure if Pineda has the marbles (I have a million of these “Major League II” references so stay tuned) to cut it in New York.

Pineda is an immense talent but this team is without a true #1 starting pitcher in my opinion while also having a few holes elsewhere to fill. When you look at the free agent market heading into this winter the talent pool is flush with starting pitchers, namely David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto and likely Zack Greinke if he opts out of his deal as he is expected to, while the Yankees have a laundry list of names to fill just five positions in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka leads that list followed by Luis Severino, Adam Warren (Brian Cashman himself called him a starter recently), CC Sabathia for likely two more seasons, Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell and a slew of minor leaguers that are unlikely to crack the rotation out of Spring Training including Brady Lail and Rookie Davis.

If the Yankees could sell Pineda off for a right-handed hitting power bat or a second baseman the team has enough confidence in to play every day then I’m all for it. I’m all for selling high on a player when selling high makes sense for the organization and selling Pineda off this offseason may be in the best interest for everyone involved. Or not.

ICYMI:The Significance of the Yankees Farm System Going Forward

The 2015 season has been the Year of the Prospect, and not just for the New York Yankees but for the entirety of Major League Baseball. Without the concrete numbers in front of me I would think we have seen more Major League debut’s in 2015 then we have in quite a long time, I know for a fact that the New York Yankees set the record for the most by one team in a single season with 18 this season. Yesterday when the Yankees released their Wild Card postseason rosters I couldn’t help but be amazed at just how much homegrown talent was on the roster. Sure a few spots would have been filled if it had not been for injuries to Stephen Drew, Mark Teixeira and Nathan Eovaldi and had CC Sabathia been available but still, in years past those losses would have been a death sentence and in 2015 it has made the team win almost in spite of it all.

Breaking down those rosters from yesterday’s game you can see just how the Yankees farm system is going to play a significant role for the team going forward. Luis Severino, Greg Bird, James Pazos, Robert Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Rico Noel, Bryan Mitchell and Slade Heathcott all made the Yankees Wild Card roster as rookies and all but Noel, who was originally in the San Diego Padres organization before the middle of 2015, came from the Yankees farm system. Sure a case could be made that if the team hadn’t lost Eovaldi that Severino wouldn’t be in, if the team hadn’t lost Drew that Refsnyder would be in, if the team hadn’t lost Teixeira that Bird wouldn’t be in and if it wasn’t a one-game playoff that allowed the team to reset their rosters after the game if they won that Sanchez wouldn’t be in but I don’t think I would necessarily feel comfortable agreeing with that.

Severino was held back early in his minor league season with the hopes of him coming up late and providing the boost that he has. Bird was up when both Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira were healthy and was being groomed slowly, that plan just never came to fruition. You likely have a point with Refsnyder, only because his second half numbers were atrocious, and Sanchez but the fact of the matter is the Yankees have been preparing for this day all season long.

The reason David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to name a few are not wearing Yankees uniforms these days is because of the significance of the farm system going forward. That farm system will only get more and more important as the contracts of ARod, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira come off the board and I, for one, am excited to see it happen.

Bring me Justin Upton

The New York Yankees, and this is just my opinion, experiment of having two lead-off type hitters at the top of the order has failed miserably in their two-year experiment. Having two speedy guys to set the tone for the big boppers in the middle of the lineup is a great idea in theory, it turns solo home runs presumably into two-or-three run home runs but the game is not played in theory. The game is played in real life and when you have a Brett Gardner and a Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup, both left-handed by the way (more on that later), you need to also be stealing runs and creating runs with your legs. The Yankees did not do that in 2014 nor did they do that in 2015 which leaves me wanting to leave the left-handed heavy lineup more balanced at the top and the team’s lineup more potent against left-handed starting pitching, and that’s where Justin Upton comes into play.

This one is going to be tricky but I run a blog called “The Greedy Pinstripes” for free while Joe Girardi gets paid, and paid well, to make the decisions on the field and get everyone the work that they need. The Yankees outfield is very left-handed heavy with Ellsbury and Gardner pure left-handed hitters with Carlos Beltran, albeit a switch hitter, with splits leaning heavily in his favor as a left-handed hitter opposed to him as a right-handed hitter. Adding Justin Upton into some sort of rotation (since both Ellsbury and Gardner can play center field and Upton can play both corner outfield positions) would not only be ideal for the team I think it would be ideal for Upton as well.

Upton struggled a bit in San Diego with the Padres and would laugh in the faces of anyone who tells him it’s tough to hit home runs inside Yankee Stadium as a right-handed bat. Upton was long thought to be a Yankee before being traded to the Atlanta Braves and then again to the Padres and Cashman usually tends to get his man, even if it’s a few years late and especially when it’s just for money. The only thing here is whether Hal is willing to open up his purse strings a little and Girardi can convince him that he’s going to get enough at bats between left field, right field and DH. 

The T.G.P. Game with the Yankees Offense

All weekend long we’ve been playing the TGP Game and we’ll likely play it at least once more closer to Spring Training when rosters are close to being finalized. This weekend we’ve looked at the Yankees starting rotation and bullpen heading into 2016 so now all we have left is the offense. One last time in case this is your first time reading the TGP Game here is what the acronym stands for. The “T” stands for tumble, or get worse from 2015 to 2016, while the “G” stands for get better in 2016. The “P” in this game stands for plateau which means the player will be around their 2015 statistics in 2016, original I know but I like playing the game and I wanted to put my own gist to it.

McCann – P

McCann set a new career high in home runs and led the team in RBI for the second straight team while working with the pitching staff and holding down the opposing team’s running game. With another year on that shoulder and those knees I can’t see him getting better but he shows no signs of slowing down either.

Teixeira – G

Gluten free Teixeira was an awesome Teixeira and he finished one freak foul ball off his shin away from a 40 home run and 100+ RBI season. Teix will be healthy in 2016 and looking for a new contract, can you say contract season?

Bird – G

Bird was possibly the best Yankees offensive weapon since his call up in 2015. How could he possibly get any better you ask? Youth, aggression and experience. That’s how.

Refsnyder – G

See above for Greg Bird. Give the guy a damn shot, will you?

Gregorius – P

Gregorius was fantastic in his debut season outside of the first month and a half of the season. Didi settled in, got used to the team, the market and the fans and did his thing. I see him doing his thing again in 2016 as he emulates his near .300 average in the second half of 2015 over the course of a full season in 2016.

Headley – T

Headley led the team in hits and games played in 2015, you can’t really expect him to do the same in 2016. His defense may be declining, although that may all be in his head with the throwing portion, and so is his power. Two bad signs for a third baseman with three years left on his contract.

Gardner – P

Gardner continues to show more pop than anyone ever expected and should be right around his 15 home run and 50-60 RBI numbers in 2016. His strikeout numbers will likely also be there but he has the legs and the speed to run out bunts and infield hits to keep his batting average respectable, just like in 2015.

Ellsbury – G

Ellsbury missed a long stretch of 2015 with a leg injury and should be healthy and ready for Spring Training 2016. Ellsbury should hit more, drive in more, score more and steal more bases. Unless he suffers another tough knee injury he almost has to by default after a terribly unproductive 2015 season.

Beltran – P

Beltran is what Beltran is at this point. Beltran could be 50-years old and probably hit .285 and raise the bar in September and October. Beltran is not a 30 home run threat anymore but he wasn’t in 2015 either and that was just fine. Beltran is a proud individual and will not go out on anything but his terms in 2016.

Rodriguez – T

A Rod absolutely cannot replicate his 2015 season in 2016, can he? 41-year old players just don’t lead the Yankees in home runs, do they? No… right?

Quick Hit: Francisco Cervelli vs. Brian McCann

Both the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates made the postseason in 2015 as the first Wild Card winner and both teams unfortunately went out in the one-game playoff. While the Pirates season was much more impressive winning 98 wins the New York Yankees did well enough to win 87 games and stick around for most of the 2015 season. Many fans were left wondering what the Yankees could have done differently and what Brian Cashman could have done to help the team, does that include not trading Francisco Cervelli in favor of signing current catcher Brian McCann?

That's probably a question too tough to answer as both were durable and key parts of the team, the pitching staff and the defense as both catchers controlled the running game exceptionally well in 2015. The Yankees have a very left-handed heavy lineup and Cervelli is right-handed but is that enough to make fans miss him over McCann? Let's the stats do the talking and leave your comments in the comments section of the post.

2015 135 535 465 68 108 15 26 94 0 52 97 .232 .320 .437 .756 107
2015 130 510 451 56 133 17 7 43 1 46 94 .295 .370 .401 .771 113

This Day in New York Yankees History 10/12: Casey Stengel Day

Not much has happened on this day in New York Yankees history believe it or not. The team didn't capture any World Series championships, break any records, or win any big games. Casey Stengel made the Yankees news a couple times though when on this day in 1948 the Yankees named Stengel the manager. Stengel was replacing Bucky Harris after never finishing higher than fifth place with the Braves or the Dodgers in his managerial career.

Also on this day in Stengel history the Hall of Fame manager hit the deciding home run in a World Series against the Bronx Bombers. In front of the largest crowd in MLB history, a mere 62,430 fans, Stengel hit his second home run of the World Series for the Giants in a 1-0 victory over the Yankees.