Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Shouldering the Arm of Discontent...

Credit: Charles Wenzelberg - The New York Post

Rotator Cuff Inflammation Derails Luis Severino for 2 Weeks…

Spring Training threw us its first curve ball yesterday with the news that ace Luis Severino was pulled from his scheduled start against the Atlanta Braves due to pain in his right shoulder. With the words made famous by former professional boxer Roberto Duran in his 1980 bout with Sugar Ray Leonard, “No Mas!”, Severino let pitching coach Larry Rothschild know that something was wrong during his pre-game bullpen session. A subsequent trip to the hospital for an MRI revealed inflammation in the rotator cuff but thankfully, knock on wood, no indications of a possible tear.  You certainly worry about high velocity guys like Sevy and concerns that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. Hopefully this proves to be nothing that a little rest cannot cure. 

The Yankees will shut down Sevy for two weeks. Assuming there are no further setbacks or recurrence of pain, he’ll resume throwing again around the first day of Spring (March 20th). Unfortunately, due to the injury, Severino has been scratched as the Opening Day starter. While Masahiro Tanaka is probably the sentimental favorite to start Opening Day, his history to open the regular season has not been great. In his last Opening Day start, Tanaka was dreadful. On April 2, 2017, for Manager Joe Girardi, Tanaka gave up seven runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. He walked two and gave up home runs to Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria in the 7-3 loss. As Girardi probably said that day, it’s not what you want. Tanaka’s start was the shortest on Opening Day since Ron Guidry was pulled after 2 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners in 1983. Severino started Opening Day last year, a 6-1 victory over current teammate J.A. Happ and the Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I’d probably roll with the new guy, James Paxton, but it would be hard to argue with Tanaka despite the lack of success the last time around for no other reason than his tenure as a Yankee.

Credit: Lynne Sladky - AP
When the news broke about Severino, many Yankee fans were immediately clamoring for the Front Office to sign free agent starter Dallas Keuchel. As much as I’d like to see Keuchel as part of the starting rotation, the truth is it will never happen. Keuchel, despite being unsigned this late in March, will still command a multi-year deal for as much as $20 million annually. He also carries draft pick compensation for the Houston Astros since he received and rejected a qualifying offer. I just don’t see the Yankees making that type of financial commitment for rotation insurance. Gio Gonzalez, as many have said, represents the most logical choice on the free agent market. After that, we’re talking about guys like “Big Game” James Shields who hasn’t seen a big game in years and has pitched like it. The Yankees could stay in-house and simply use guys like Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and, ugh, Luis Cessa. I guess I am in favor of bringing in an experienced arm so I’d take Gonzalez. The Yankees head into the season with only three of five starters healthy and ready to go. CC Sabathia is behind the other starters after his angioplasty in December and resulting late start to Camp so he’ll begin the season on the Injured List. He also has to serve the five-game suspension from last season once he’s activated. In all likelihood, the Yankees will not see either Severino or Sabathia until the latter part of April (after series against the two of the best teams in the American League, Houston and Boston). I’d rather have a proven, dependable starter that can keep the team in games to help bridge the gap to full health. Keep Loaisiga and German in limited spot starts until they prove they are ready for more. The ship with Cessa as a starter has sailed for me. I’d rather keep him in a relief role so that he is not overexposed. He becomes more hittable the second and third time through lineups as the hitters gain familiarity. I’d rather keep him as a mystery in the pen facing a minimal number of batters. 

TGP’s Daniel Burch made a very compelling argument this morning for why the Yankees should avoid Gonzalez based on his stats in American League parks. I do not dispute Daniel’s opinion even if I may not agree. For a team with aspirations to win the World Series, a little experience goes a long way. I know that Gonzalez is not going to pitch like the second coming of Max Scherzer but, conversely, he is much better than his other former Washington Nationals teammate, A.J. Cole, whom we got to know too well last season.  Inevitably, the Yankees need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. What if Sevy’s shoulder becomes more problematic than something two weeks of rest can cure? I guess with the other questions in the starting rotation, I am not ready to pin our hopes heavily upon Loaisiga and German.  Ease them in, yes. Throw them into the fire, no way. So, while I respect Daniel’s opinion, I’d rather go with the strong arm of experience. 

Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Hopefully the Yankees can avoid any further injuries in the remaining three weeks of Spring Training.  Center fielder Aaron Hicks has missed a few games with back stiffness but it does not seem too severe.  In their first nine games of the regular season, the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, two teams that collectively only won eleven more games than the Yankees did last year. The Yankees need to take advantage of those teams to get off to a good start this year which means we need everyone healthy. A season is not lost in April, but as the Boston Red Sox showed last year, a great start can help propel a team to tremendous accomplishments. 

I am not sure why Aaron Judge was issued a warning by MLB for telling Manny Machado last year that he’d look good in pinstripes, but Bryce Harper can go on the radio saying, “But if you don’t think I’m not gonna call Mike Trout in 2020 to have him come to Philly, you’re crazy” without retribution. Harper’s words carry much stronger implications of tampering than Judge’s innocent words did. Hopefully, MLB, at the very least, issues the same type of warning to Harper as they did Judge.  In my mind, Harper’s words are premeditated as he has been saying for days that he intends to recruit players to come to Philadelphia to play. Judge’s comments seemed to be a random, spur of the moment thing.

Not sure what I think about Sonny Gray’s comments yesterday. In large part, I think his interview with Eno Sarris of The Athletic was taken out of context. Still, Gray was a little harsh in his words when he said the Yankees “love sliders” and added “Sliders are a great pitch. The numbers say slider is a good pitch, but you might not realize how many shitty counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders. They wanted me to be (Masahiro) Tanaka and I’m way different from him.” In describing his lack of command with his slider, Gray said, “When I try to throw sliders for a strike, I get around it and it’s just a shitty spinning pitch. I don’t know how people throw sliders for strikes that are still tight, good pitches. I’m at 2-0 and I’m throwing a slider, and either I’m throwing a shitty slider in the zone, or I’m yanking it into the direct and it’s 3-0 and I’m screwed either way.” Frankly, these words make me question Gray’s decisions on the mound.  He is in control of the pitches he throws.

I thought Manager Aaron Boone responded well when asked about Gray’s “shitty” comments. “We tried as best we could to try to get him to be successful,” Boone conveyed.  “I think we all kind of shared in the frustration at times. I know he was frustrated. We were. But we just tried to get him to be the best he could be and as successful as he could be.” Regarding the slider, Boone added “I don’t know if I’d characterize it as we pushed him to throw sliders. He throws a slider.”

I am glad that Sonny is a Cincinnati Red and not a New York Yankee. Some guys just aren’t made for the Pinstripes and Gray was not. I wish him the best in Cincinnati but I hope he takes the high road moving forward. It didn’t work out for him in New York. It happens. New York is not Oakland nor is it Cincinnati. The Big Apple is not for everyone. He has a clean slate in his new city to rewrite his accomplishments. Have at it. As for the past, it’s just water under the bridge.

Gray’s comments also brought around a new round of hate directed at Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. While I may not be a big fan of Rothschild, I recognize the Yankees have great faith and trust in the man and he is recognized, right or wrong, as one of the best pitching coaches in the business.  I also know the Yankees know more about Yankee players and coaches than I do. As long as they believe in Rothschild, I will too.  As for Aaron Boone, I really believe we’ll see an improved version in 2019 now that he has a season under his belt. There is an inevitable learning curve for any first-time manager. The Yankees knew it when they made the decision to go with Boone prior to last season. To expect him to manage a game, at the beginning of his managerial career, as well as Terry Francona or even Alex Cora, who had a year as a bench coach on a World Series championship team, is foolish and set false expectations. I think Boone will be better this year as I expect he’ll be even better in 2020. Contrary to what some may believe, the Yankees can win a World Series with Aaron Boone as the manager. He is universally liked by the players, the Front Office and the Steinbrenner Family. I am probably less concerned about the last two but as long as Boone has control of the clubhouse, all is good. As they say, analytics drive decisions these days anyway. I do not feel that either Boone or Rothschild will hold this team back from achieving its destiny if the team believes it can.    

As always, Go Yankees!

Should the Yankees Sign Gio Gonzalez?

The New York Yankees lost Luis Severino for at least a few weeks to open the season after the right-hander was scratched from his spring debut with shoulder discomfort. The diagnosis was inflammation in his right rotator cuff and the cure, the Yankees hope anyway, is two weeks of rest and some anti-inflammatories. Immediately following the news, the focus shifted to whether or not the Yankees should add another pitcher, namely either Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez. While I think many are well-versed in what Keuchel brings to the table already, I think most don’t truly know what the team would be acquiring if they were to go out and sign Gonzalez on a one-year (presumably) deal. How would Gio pitch in the American League after splitting time with Washington and Milwaukee in 2018? The stats suggest that he may not fare so well for the Bronx Bombers…

First, let’s look at Gio’s career stats inside of Yankee Stadium. Gio has pitched three games inside Yankee Stadium III, all three of them starts spanning 17.2 innings pitched. Combined, Gio has allowed 13 hits and nine runs to the Yankees, all of them earned, on one home run with nine walks. Gio did strike out 16 batters for almost a batter struck out per innings pitched, but a WHIP of 1.245 and a 4.58 ERA leaves much to be desires. Sure, the sample size is small, but the sample size expands a bit when you look at what he has done in other key American League ballparks.

LAA-Angel Stad324.05633.1291615313301.2608.1
DET-Comerica Pk0232.4025.01619185343.8007.2
CHW-US Cellular033.98320.11610919231.23010.2
BOS-Fenway Pk305.08528.1281716415291.5189.2
CLE-Progressive401.13640.02865216391.1008.8 Colis21153.7347277.1244125115311382561.3778.3
BAL-Camden Yards233.15745.2471816517311.4016.1
SEA-Safeco Fld223.48844.0411917127521.54510.6
TOR-Rogers Ctr135.70423.2201515311191.3107.2
MIN-Target Field111.50212.074206111.0838.3
TEX-Rangers Bpk124.29521.026141057181.5717.7
NYY-Yankee Stad3114.58317.2139919161.2458.2

Now, you must remember that Gio did much of his damage in the American League as a much younger pitcher with the Oakland Athletics. Whether that works for him or against him at this point in his career remains to be seen, but it is worth mentioning that Gio’s first four seasons in Oakland resulted in a 38-32 record with a 3.93 ERA, 4.06 FIP, and a 1.410 WHIP. Meanwhile, in the National League, Gio posted a total of 89 wins and 65 losses with a 3.59 ERA, 3.45 FIP and 1.276 WHIP with the Nationals and Brewers. Gio was a much better pitcher in the National League and that should scare you if you are a fan of the New York Yankees signing him.

I’m not saying that Gio would get lit up in the Bronx, although he may, but I am not saying that he would be that big of an upgrade either. Remember, Gio has missed all of spring training up to date and that’s not nothing. At this point would Gio, at least until Severino returns anyway, be that much better than what the Yankees have in Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German? Honestly, I think not. If Severino were having a much more serious injury that we could pinpoint RIGHT NOW, like a Tommy John surgery for instance, then the argument could be made that Gio would be better over the course of a season than what the Yankees already have, but right now we just can’t do that. I wouldn’t feel comfortable even suggesting that.

In closing, stick with what we have and ride the wave. If the Severino shoulder injury becomes more serious, then you react, but right now I feel like it would be foolish to go out and get a guy like Gio, Keuchel, or anyone outside of the organization for what could amount to just a couple missed starts. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that I am.

What say you?

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

Predicting the 2019 Season: The Standings

The 2018 saw three teams in the American League win at least 100 games, but on the flip side of that coin we also watched as teams like the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, and others struggled mightily to win games all season long. To have just one team win 100 games is not the most common thing in the league in recent memory, so to have three is downright special. Will we see a repeat of that here in 2019? Only time will tell, but I will do my best to predict whether they will, or they won’t, as well as what teams will make the postseason and win their respective divisions as well. Bookmark this. I have a feeling by the end of the season I will be eating a whole lot of crow with these predictions, as usual.

American League East

New York Yankees: 96-66
Boston Red Sox: 92-70
Tampa Bay Rays: 87-75
Toronto Blue Jays: 66-96
Baltimore Orioles: 59-103

I know, most will call me a homer for picking the New York Yankees to win the division. Guess what? I don’t care. Maybe I am a homer, or maybe I can just see better than most that the team has done a lot to improve themselves here in 2019, especially on the pitching side of things. Boston will undoubtedly take a step back with that bullpen and the loss of Craig Kimbrel while you cannot expect Ian Snell to repeat what he did in 2018. Not to say that the Red Sox or Rays are necessarily worse teams in 2019, but an awful lot has to go right for a team to win 90 games, 100 games, or even 108 games. There’s a certain luck factor there and that historically just doesn’t translate from year-to-year.

American League Central

Cleveland Indians: 88-76
Minnesota Twins: 82-80
Chicago White Sox: 74-88
Detroit Tigers: 72-90
Kansas City Royals: 70-92

I don’t think there are any real surprises here other than maybe the win total of the Minnesota Twins. I know the Twins lost one of their better and more consistent starters, when healthy, in Ervin Santana, but I really like the young core of guys that the Twins have. Extending a couple of their guys allows them to focus solely on the game, and that generally translates into production on the field. I think they will at least be in the conversation for the second Wild Card this season, assuming the health of their key contributors.

American League West

Oakland Athletics: 91-71
Houston Astros: 90-72
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 81-81
Texas Rangers: 73-89
Seattle Mariners: 70-92

Kill me if you want to, but the Houston Astros lost a whole lot of pitching this offseason, Justin Verlander has to age eventually, and the Oakland Athletics are just a damn good team. I could end up with egg on my face by the end of the season, but these are my predictions regardless. Also, I love how Seattle “reinvented their roster” rather than rebuild the team. Same difference, at least according to the above.

Wild Card #1 – Boston Red Sox
Wild Card #2 – Houston Astros

National League East

Atlanta Braves: 93-69
Washington Nationals: 91-71
Philadelphia Phillies: 88-74
New York Mets: 80-82
Miami Marlins: 60-102

I truly believe that the Atlanta Braves are a much better team than they were in 2018, and here’s why. Josh Donaldson, if healthy and we all presume he will be, is a monster on a one-year deal and will provide a legitimate bat in the middle of that lineup. I also think that Brian McCann, even a shell of his former self, will help more than can be expressed or quantified with the Braves pitching staff. I expect Washington to be in the thick of things again and better than they were last year, maybe even in spite of Bryce Harper, while the Phillies “stupid money” offseason plan will fall just short.

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers: 91-71
St. Louis Cardinals: 87-75
Chicago Cubs: 85-77
Cincinnati Reds: 81-81
Pittsburgh Pirates: 80-82

I think the NL Central will be the most competitive division in all of Major League Baseball in 2019. The Brewers should be the cream of the crop, but the Cardinals and Cubs should be right on their tails for much of the season. The Reds added a ton of pitching to go with their young group of players while the Pirates, while still rebuilding, still have great pitching with Chris Archer and others.

National League West

Los Angeles Dodgers: 97-65
Colorado Rockies: 89-73
San Diego Padres: 80-82
San Francisco Giants: 75-87
Arizona Diamondbacks: 73-89

No, I am not jumping on the Manny Machado bandwagon and donning him the reason the Padres improve by 16 games in 2019. He will help, sure, but the Padres have a great young team that is absolutely stacked with talent. That, alongside Machado, will be the reason the Padres make a real stride this season. I expect Eric Hosmer to be better as well, compared to what he produced in Kansas City to what he did in San Diego he almost has to improve you would think, which should help the Padres win more games in what should be a weaker division overall in 2019.

Wild Card #1 - Washington Nationals
Wild Card #2 - Colorado Rockies

What will happen in the postseason? You have to tune in tomorrow to find out!

TGP Trivia and Fact of the Day for March 6th, 2019

Good morning Yankees family!!

What manager of the New York Yankees was the first in baseball history to win World Series titles in each of his first two seasons as a manager?

Highlight below to get your answer, but leave your guesses in the comments section below before you reveal the answer.

Ralph Houk, who won the World Series in 1961 and 1962

And a special good morning to my amazing wife, Kari. I love you more than I could ever put into words.