Thursday, March 16, 2017

A little Birdy told me…


Credit:  Getty Images

Actually, I have no friggin’ idea.  The question?  How will Greg Bird hit this year?  

‘With a bat’…alright, I set myself up for that one.  But seriously, what results will that bat produce this season for the Yankees new first baseman?

The Yankees have a long history of strong first basemen in recent memory.  Don Mattingly was beloved from beginning to end, but back problems reduced his effectiveness toward the end of his career.  I remain convinced that he would have had a Hall of Fame career if the back problems had not robbed him of crucial years.  

When Donnie Baseball retired after the excruciating loss to the Seattle Mariners in the 1995 play-offs, there was uncertainty over who would fill his shoes.  On December 7, 1995, the Yankees traded third baseman Russ Davis and pitcher Sterling Hitchcock to the Seattle Mariners to acquire first baseman Constantino “Tino” Martinez, along with relievers Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson.  It set up the chain of successive great first basemen for New York.  

After collecting a truckload of World Series rings, Tino left as a free agent following the 2001 season.  To replace Martinez, the Yankees dipped into the free agent market and snagged the Oakland A’s slugging first baseman Jason Giambi.  After the PED issues and deteriorating performance, Giambi left as a free agent following the 2008 season.  To replace the Giambino, the Yankees dipped back into free agency to pick up Mark Teixeira (the same year they signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, which led to the 2009 World Series Championship).

Like Giambi, but unrelated to PEDs, Teixeira’s performance, as we sadly know, also deteriorated with time.  Injuries, age, his wife’s shopping habits, whatever the cause, it wasn’t pretty at the end.  Teixeira retired after the end of last season which leads us to our new first baseman, Gregory Paul Bird. 

It’s been a long and winding road to get here but nonetheless here we are.  

Since he missed most of last year due to injury, the Yankees haven’t seen Bird since he played 46 games in 2015, hitting 11 home runs and 31 RBI’s to go with a .261 batting average.  Bird represents the youngest first-time, full-time (at the beginning of the year) starting Yankees first baseman since Donnie Baseball.  Mattingly was 23 when he made his first major impact in 1983. He had played 91 games the year before but ’83 was the first full season as the team’s starting first baseman.  I remember when Mattingly was in the minors.  Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni drew all the raves for his massive home runs.  Mattingly was viewed more as a singles hitter. Yet, Mattingly succeeded and Balboni went to Kansas City for the start of a journeyman career.  It would have been impossible to predict how Mattingly would perform at the major league level based on his minor league stats.  That’s where I am with Greg Bird.  

With Bird, I see a professional hitter.  I have no doubt that he’ll be successful.  I just don’t know how successful.  I clearly prefer Bird under trial and error versus handing the job to Chris “I only hit home runs” Carter or giving the job to Tyler Austin when he returns from the broken foot. 

Bird has big shoes to fill when you look at the inaugural year, as Yankees, for the above-referenced line of Yankees first basemen.

First full year as Yankees first baseman

PLAYER
AGE
GAMES
HR
RBI
BA
Mattingly
23
153
23
110
0.343
Martinez
28
155
25
117
0.292
Giambi
31
155
41
122
0.314
Teixeira
29
156
39
122
0.292


First full year with original team

PLAYER
AGE
GAMES
HR
RBI
BA
Mattingly
23
153
23
110
0.343
Martinez
24
136
16
66
0.257
Giambi
25
140
20
79
0.291
Teixeira
23
146
26
84
0.259

For the purposes of my analysis, I defined the first full year as the first with more than 100 games played.  

If Bird approaches these numbers (in the neighborhood), the Yankees will be very pleased.  My guess, which is absolutely worthless, is that Bird will hit about 20 homers and 70 RBI’s.  He should also hit for average (unlike his backup).  

Obviously, how Bird’s predecessors hit have nothing to do with how he will perform, but you would expect numbers comparable to those put up by Martinez and Giambi during the debut seasons with their original teams.  If he puts up Mattingly’s numbers, we might be talking about how the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox to take the AL East.   Okay, that statement might be a little overly aggressive but how wonderful it would be if he did.

When the season is done, I think the Yankees will be happy with Bird’s performance assuming he stays healthy.  

A trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway through Pebble Beach might have been a prettier route to take than the one I just did to get to Bird’s forecast, but what do I know.  I am just a fan.

MiLB.com has released their Top Ten Overall Farm System Rankings.  They have the Yankees at #2, citing Gleyber Torres of the “new face of the youth movement”.  They also referenced Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, and Albert Abreu as reasons for the high ranking.  The Atlanta Braves were the only team rated higher, thanks to a stronger pitching pipeline.

So much for the 53-man NFL roster, the Yankees sent 5 more down to minor league camp for re-assignment. Counting the players away at the WBC, that leaves 48 players in the march to 25. The latest departees are RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Giovanny Gallegos, RHP Chance Adams, LHP Dietrich Enns, and 3B Miguel Andujar.  I can’t say that I am really surprised by any of the cuts, although I had expected Adams to get more looks during spring training.  He appeared in 3 games for a total of 4 innings, with 2.25 ERA.  However, more walks (6) than strikeouts (5) was troubling.  If he can solve his control issues, there’s a good chance we’ll see him again.  

Wow, that’s the Big Mike I want this year!  I know, I know, spring stats mean zilch (especially with numerous major leaguers away at the WBC), but Michael Pineda put up great numbers (or rather perfect numbers) last night against the Philadelphia Phillies.  5 innings, no hits, no runs, no walks, 8 strikeouts.  

After Aroldis Chapman contributed his usual scoreless inning, Chad Green finished up the game, allowing the only hit and run for the Phillies as the Yankees cruised 3-1.  The Yankees offense was completely Baby Bomber-powered.  A home run by Greg Bird, a run scoring single by Gary Sanchez (who was 2-for-2), and a sac fly by Dustin Fowler.  Phillies starter, and former Red Sock, Clay Buchholz took the loss (his second loss to the Bombers this month).  

Austin Romine left the game after being hit in the hand with a wild pitch from Green, but, fortunately, x-rays after the game proved negative.

Veteran reliever Ernesto Frieri was in the Yankees clubhouse prior to the game and it is speculated that he may sign a minor league contract with the team as soon as today.  Frieri recently pitched for Columbia in the WBC but hasn’t been in the major leagues since 2015.

The Yankees improved their spring record to 14-5.

James Kaprielian will make his long-anticipated first start in Grapefruit League action later today in Dunedin, FL against the Toronto Blue Jays.  

Have a great Thursday!

1 comment:

  1. I think that's a bit unfair to Greg Bird- Tino played 15 seasons and Giambi is bionic and Im pretty sure he played his 45th season 2 years ago as special hitting coach/ bench player, where he would strike out 90% of the time, or crush a 500 foot walk off homerun as a pinch hitter the other 10% of the time.

    He's a year out of major shoulder surgery, where Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez took over a year (after returning) to get their power back. and those are big power guys.

    I know, Bird looks great right now. Im super excited by that, even if it's just spring training! Heck, I would honestly be happy if Bird hit 15 homers, played 130+ games, and hit against lefties! Those would make me incredibly happy! Fingers crossed for a long successful career in pinstripes, but let's not compare him to say, one of the top 25 hitters manning first base.

    Let didi and Castro build off of 2016- heck, especially Castro that makes 15 mil. Let headley not start 1 for 70. Let Ellsbury make that moolah.

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