Planning for the Wild Card Game Starter

Barring a wild finish to the regular season, the Yankees will host the American League Wild Card playoff against the runner-up in the Western Division one week from tomorrow. That allows Joe Girardi and his staff a few days to align a starting pitcher for said do-or-die game. Lining up Masahiro Tanaka for the start would be the easy decision had he not tweaked his hamstring recently. He is expected to make one more start, presumably on a date to set him up to potentially pitch in the one game playoff next week. Nonetheless, expect the Yankees to have a contingency plan in order.

At the moment, the starters on September 30th (Wednesday) and October 1st (Thursday) are the ones to watch for next Tuesday’s pivotal game. The starter on the Wednesday would have an extra day of rest for the Wild Card game, while the pitcher the following day would scheduled for normal rest. CC Sabathia last pitched on Friday, and thus would be on regular rest for Wednesday the 30th. However, the starter for that evening is TBA, so Tanaka is certainly in play for that game. Adam Warren would be on normal rest for Thursday the 1st, but the Yankees have that night listed as TBA as well.

Warren and Ivan Nova can be disregarded as potential starters for next Tuesday. That leaves the team with Tanaka, Sabathia, Luis Severino, and Michael Pineda. Tanaka is the favorite assuming good health. Severino and Pineda are likely 2a. and 2b. If Sabathia is truly under consideration, it’s as a nostalgia candidate despite solid performance recently. Continue reading

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Supplanting Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew is a bad hitter. That’s putting it nicely. The Yankees’ second baseman has made it past the halfway point of the season without being displaced, frustrating fans with the team’s persistence to trot him out at the keystone regularly. It’s understandable that he was given a flyer at an affordable five million dollars for the season, but at this stage, his play is no longer acceptable.

Of 164 qualified hitters, Drew ranks 12th-worst in wRC+. It’s amazing he’s lasted this long, 270 plate appearances, given the dreadful performance. Sure, he’s popped 12 home runs including one last night, but that alone doesn’t make him deserving of a starting role. His glovework is steady, but again, that isn’t sufficient to justify his presence in the lineup everyday. And, given his miserable 2014, it’s not like this malaise is a fluke. It’s time to move on. Fortunately, the Yankees have an internal option waiting in Triple-A, Rob Refsnyder. He’s not a guaranteed improvement, but what do the Yankees have to lose? Quite frankly, it would be difficult for him to play poorer than Drew has.

Chris ranked Refsnyder the Yankees’ seventh best prospect and profiled him back in February. The Yankees’ fifth-round pick in 2012 has warmed up as the season’s progressed, and has posted a stellar 133 wRC+ through 359 trips to the plate in Triple-A. That’s right in line with what he did last year at the level, albeit with a little less power (ISO down to .121 from .157) and much more contact (K% down to 12.3% from 20.1%). Continue reading

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Re-Post: Nick Rumbelow’s Prospect Profile

2014 Stats:

Level: A/A+/AA/AAA

44 G   58.1 IP   34.0% K%  7.6% BB%   0.04% HR%   35.9% GB%   2.62 ERA   2.05 FIP


After an up-and-down run as a setup guy at LSU, the Yankees selected Nick Rumbelow in the 7th round in 2013 with the hope that he’d be able to work through his command issues and capitalize on his plus stuff. Rumbelow joined the Staten Island Yankees once he finished up at LSU, and something seemed to click for the 21-year-old — he sliced his BB/9 from 4.1 at LSU to 2.0 in the New York Penn League.

2014 Results

Rumbelow’s new-found command carried over into the 2014 season. He posted an uncharacteristically respectable 8% walk rate, which enabled him to rocket through the Yankees minor league system. The 22-year-old mowed down hitters at four different levels. He started the year with Low-A Charleston and worked his way up to Triple-A Scranton, posting gaudy strikeout numbers at every stop along the way.

KATOH, my prospect projection system, really likes what Rumbelow did last season. It forecasts a respectable 2.9 WAR through age 28, which is good for the 174th highest projection among players with at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last year. Rumbelow’s solid projection is mostly driven by his sky-high 34% strikeout rate from last year, but is also helped by the fact that he yielded just two homers in 58 innings of work. Here’s a look at Rumbelow’s odds of reaching certain WAR thresholds through age 28:


2015 Outlook

There’s no denying that Rumbelow has the upside of a dominant late-inning reliever, especially now that he’s more or less exorcised the control problems that plagued him in his college days. His fastball sits in the mid 90’s, and he pairs it with decent-enough breaking pitches, but his command is still holding him back. Although it’s come a long way since his LSU, it still isn’t great. Rumbelow should open the year in Scranton’s bullpen, but will almost certainly make his big league debut at some point in 2015. As a reliever, his upside is somewhat limited, but he has more than enough stuff to be able to get both lefties and righties out.

This article was originally published on Pinstripe Alley.

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Chase Headley’s slow start

Entering 2015, Chase Headley was perhaps the least of the Yankees’ concerns. And why would anyone be concerned about him? After his acquisition mid-2014, he impressed in pinstripes and received a four-year contract to stay in the Bronx. The lineup had more pressing questions, such as the viability of Alex Rodriguez or the health of Carlos Beltran. Yet, about a quarter through the regular season, Headley’s been one of the team’s worst performers at the plate (84 wRC+).

At first glance, it seems that Headley has run into a bit of bad luck. A .271 BABIP is low given Headley’s .301 mark last season. Additionally, his batted ball profile lends to the notion that the switch-hitter has been extremely unfortunate at the plate. According to Fangraphs, Headley has hit 26.9% line drives, 45.4% ground balls, and 27.8% fly balls. Not only are these rates quite favorable, but they also are in line with his results last season. So, Headley’s due for some better fortune going forward, right? Not so fast. Continue reading

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Mark Teixeira’s strange but good offensive performance

Under normal circumstances, a team does not want a player with a .121 BABIP in its lineup, let alone batting cleanup. Yet, the Yankees are doing just that. Mark Teixeira is hitting fourth and has produced a stellar 141 wRC+ despite his microscopic BABIP. How has he done it? Aside from his 10 home runs, Mark has exhibited excellent plate discipline.

Last year, Teixeira struck out a career-worst 21.5% of the time. Maybe he was still shaking off the rust from missing most of 2013, maybe he was aging, maybe it was something else. What was worrisome was that it was a large jump from his career norms which generally hovered between 16-17%. This season, Teixeira is down to 13.9%. And given that he’s accumulated 108 plate appearances, we know this isn’t blind luck. There’s been some degree of skill involved in his improvement to this point of the season. Continue reading

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Brett Gardner’s great start

After a couple of lackluster offensive seasons, the Yankees are tied for 6th-best offense in baseball per wRC+. Much of the production is a credit to the resurgences of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, but one player who perhaps the sluggers overshadow is Brett Gardner. Through 73 times to the plate, Gardner boasts a .311/.400/.410 triple-slash (131 wRC+) with one homer and six steals. Along with Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup, Gardner has been a run producing catalyst.

Last season, Gardner evolved as a hitter. He hit for more power than ever anticipated, belting a career-high 17 home runs. For a guy who never had hit more than eight in any prior season, it certainly seemed like an aberration. And if we can glean anything from the numbers in this season’s early going, that notion looks truer by the day. Gardner’s been a much different hitter in the first month of the season compared to his career norms. Is this due to the omnipresent small sample size, or is some skill involved? Continue reading

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Making up for Masahiro Tanaka’s absence

Before the season started, everyone knew that there was a good chance that Masahiro Tanaka wouldn’t make it through the year healthy. After all, the guy had just rehabilitated a small tear in his throwing elbow’s UCL. So when news broke that Tanaka was diagnosed with a sore wrist and forearm strain, nobody was overly surprised. It was disappointing, especially after a great performance last week against Detroit. He’ll be out for at least one month.

Where do the Yankees go from here? It’s evident that Chase Whitley will take Tanaka’s spot in the rotation after yesterday’s solid outing. As an alternative, Bryan Mitchell could get a start or two as well. And just to get this out of the way: don’t expect the team to rush 21 year-old Luis Severino to be a replacement. No matter who gets the ball in place of Tanaka for the next month, the drop off in talent will be stark. So in order to absorb Tanaka’s absence, the Yankees are going to need other guys in the rotation to step up: namely CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. We know that Michael Pineda is great — the only worry is keeping him healthy, especially now without Tanaka. Adam Warren is respectable, but unlikely to take a leap forward. That leaves us with the aforementioned Sabathia and Eovaldi, who could be better.

Continue reading

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Re-post: How predictive can April hitting stats be?

Editor’s Note: Derek here. Before I get to Chris’ article, I just wanted to acknowledge the lack of posts over the past couple of weeks. Both of us have been busy with work, Chris has also been busy with school, and I also took a mini-vacation away from New York. We’ll be getting back into the swing of things shortly. For today, a re-post of an article from last April which is certainly applicable for this month’s surprises and laggards.

Every year, there are a few players who come out of the woodwork to tear the cover off of the ball for the first few weeks of the season. Most end up being nothing more than a flash in the pan, like Chris Shelton who belted 10 homers back in April of 2006, but some actually maintain their April successes: Edwin Encarnacion broke out in April of 2012 and hasn’t stopped hitting homers since. Alternatively, there are also those players who get off to uncharacteristically poor starts. Adam Dunn (2011), Derek Jeter (2004), David Ortiz (2008), and Albert Pujols (2012) have all had seasons like this in the last decade. Jeter and Ortiz returned to form without missing a beat, but Dunn and Pujols have never quite been the same.

Early season stats stand out more so than any other months since, at the end of the month, “April stats” is synonymous with “season stats.” We’re less likely to notice when a player goes on a hot or cold spell in the middle of the season simply because we don’t see those numbers on the TV broadcast or that player’s Baseball-Reference page. Everyone knows that one month of data shouldn’t drastically change your outlook of a player. There’s just too much random noise in such a small amount of games. Things out of a batter’s control, like BABIP, can cause wild variations in small samples. But what about if we drill down into specific statistics? Should we take it seriously when a hitter seems to have changed something he has a decent amount of control over? Like how often he strikes out? Continue reading

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Stephen Drew and pinch-hit grand slams

When Stephen Drew pinch-hit for Brett Gardner last night, the immediate reaction was concern about Gardner’s wrist. For a short moment, Drew made everyone forget about Gardner’s health when he launched a grand slam to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead against the Orioles. It proved to be the game winner. Who would have thought Drew would deliver?

It turns out that Drew’s grand salami put him in rare company. In major league history*, only 287 other players have accomplished the feat of a pinch-hit bases loaded homer. This is only slightly more common than a no-hitter, which has happened 232 times in regular and postseason history since 1914, the earliest date available via the Play Index. In Yankees history*, there have only been 15 pinch-hit grand slams. Continue reading

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Prospect Profile: Mason Williams

2014 Stats: 

Level: AA

563 PA   .223/.290/.304   8.3% BB%   12.1% K%   21/29 SB   +0 DEF

Mason Williams ranked #22 on Chris’ Yankees top 100 list.


Oh, how Williams has fallen. Once one of the better prospects in the game, Mason has taken a tumble in the past couple of years. Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Williams quickly burst onto prospect lists after a superb 2011 campaign with Staten Island in Short-Season A-Ball. That year, Williams posted a sky-high .349/.395/.468 triple-slash (149 wRC+) with 28 stolen bases. Baseball America ranked him the 85th best prospect in baseball afterward. In 2012, Williams impressed yet again between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, earning him the 32nd spot from the same publication. Since then, it’s been downhill. Williams was completely overmatched in a second turn at High-A in 2013, and predictably struggled in a cameo at Double-A Trenton that year too. Continue reading

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