Friday, July 4, 2014

HOLDING COACHES ACCOUNTABLE




If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the Yankees have not been a solid team all season. I define a solid team as one where there is a clearly defined core, and that they are playing up to expectations. Too many key players are out due to injury and too many players are playing hurt. It makes you wonder, who is watching over the players’ physical well-being?


The manager is the one who is ultimately responsible for the overall health and success of the team. However, I am looking at the coaches. They are the ones directly responsible for the health and conditioning of the players on the team, and they have a direct responsibility to address players’ issues. So when we look at the last 3 years of injuries and sub-par performances, how is there no scrutiny on the quality of Larry Rothschild’s work? Last year the Yankees fired strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, yet the injuries and subpar play continues.



There has been a lot of talk about how brittle the players are because they are all old. Not true of the pitching staff. Ivan Nova is 27 years old, and he suffered a partial UCL tear. I am not a medical professional, but the speculation is that it may have been due to stress caused by the motion of the arm. The motion of the arm, and the health of the arm, is something that the coaching staff is supposed to be directly managing. If this was the only example, you might be tempted to say that the coaches can only do so much, that injuries happen from time to time. It is not the only example.


Another example is Michael Pineda, who is only 25 years old. He is missing time on a back/shoulder injury caused by inflammation. You are not supposed to have nagging injuries that young. Some players are made of glass, granted, but we are starting to see a pattern emerging. What about C.C. Sabathia? Sabathia will turn 34 in a few weeks, so he is not old enough to be subject to regular injuries. Jonathan PapelbonC.J. WilsonDan Haren are all within a year of C.C.’s age and productive at their respective stages of their careers. How his legs get hurt as often as they do, and knock him out for as long as they do, is baffling. He is now recovering from an injured knee. Last year, his season ended early due to a hamstring injury. The year before, he pitched his last game against the Tigers in the playoffs and he was dreadful – and we found out later that he might have been playing hurt. Coaches are supposed to be on the lookout for things like throwing across the body, or problems with the overall mechanics of the pitching motion. So where was Larry Rothschild in these cases?


Nevertheless, let us not just pick on the pitching coach. How are the hitters faring? They are not performing much better. The Yankees are still 12th out of 15 in the American League in runs scored. They are also below the league average in both hits and home runs. In fact, there is a disturbing trend in the team hitting stats. In 2009 when they won the World Series, the team hit .283 with an OPS of .839. The next three years saw those number drop to the .260’s and .780’s, respectively. This year, the team is hitting .253 with an OPS of .698. They are on pace to hit the fewest home runs in a full season since 1989, when they hit only 130.


Some of it has to do with personnel changes. Some of it is just a drop in productivity. Mark Teixeira is hitting 35 points below his career average. Brian McCann is 50 points below his career average. Is McCann really this poor, or is the coaching problematic? Even with struggling hitters, it is the coach’s job to work with them to get them back on track. So why is there not more scrutiny on Kevin Long?


Injuries are a tricky thing to manage. Sometimes it is just hard luck. That was the popular opinion on the team last year. However, when it starts becoming a regularly occurring event, you have to wonder. Add to that the drop in productivity, and you have to start applying some pressure to the coaching staff. They are not paid to sit on the bench and high-five hitters when they hit home runs. They have a job to do, and when you don’t see the desired results, it is time for some accountability.


Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Monday, June 23, 2014

WE NEED SOME HITTING AND FAST!


With the health of the Yankee lineup seemingly always in question, and the Yankees’ inability to score runs consistently, the Yankees should be looking at some hitters before the trade deadline. The pitching opportunities are getting a lot of attention, but you cannot ignore hitting. Especially when you are in 12th place out of 15 in the American League for runs scored.


Grady Sizemore cleared waivers this past Friday, and the Yankees should be working the phones. The best part about this deal is that since Sizemore is a free agent, the Yankees do not have to give anybody up to acquire him. After missing almost 2 ½ years due to knee and back injuries which required surgery, he returned to baseball this spring with the Red Sox. In Boston’s first 13 games, he had a slash line of .343/.395/.571, with 2 homers, 4 RBI, and only 5 strikeouts in 38 plate appearances. In the 42 games since then when he played, he hit .187/.263/.267 with no homers and 11 RBI. He struck out 36 times in 167 plate appearances, which effectively doubled his strikeout rate from the first 13 games.


For those who do not remember, Grady Sizemore was a force in the Cleveland lineup for several years. In his first 4 full seasons, he had a combined OPS of .868 and averaged 27 home runs per season. He also had a pair of Gold Gloves for his play in center field and got MVP votes in each season. The Red Sox may have given up too early on Sizemore. Recovering from the injuries that Sizemore sustained is not an easy process. Acknowledging this, Sizemore kept himself out of baseball last year until he felt he could compete professionally. So, , it is not a complete surprise that he is struggling after two months. The fact is that he is only 31 years old and with his history of great play, the Yankees should give him serious consideration.


Matt Joyce is another outfielder that may be available and should get some looks. In the three years prior to this season, he had a combined slash line of .252/.339/.443 and averaged 18 home runs per season. This year is just terrible for him, and playing for a last-place team just does not create for a motivating environment. He is only 29 years old, so it is not insanity to think he can return to his prior form. If he can, he can provide a jolt to the Yankees lineup to get everyone else started too. It helps the Yankees that the Rays may be going into fire sale mode. The Tampa Bay Times published an article by Gary Shelton (read HERE) where the prevailing thought is that it is time to unload and rebuild. Shelton is talking about unloading all the major talent. If there is any truth to this article, the Yankees should put a bundled offer to them for at least Price and Joyce.


Finally, there is Raul Ibanez. As we reported HERE, he was released by the Angels on Sunday. At 42 years of age, and with his batting average on the Interstate, it is hard to see him making a comeback. He had quite a ride with the Yankees, keeping them in the playoffs with several game tying and walk-off home runs. My feeling is that the Yankees owe to him to at least offer him a minor league deal and let him try to work his way back, if he is not ready to hang it up. If he did having something left in the tank, it would be nice to have it for the second half, even if it is a long shot.


I would be shocked if the Yankees are not working the leads on pulling a deal off before the trade deadline. I would be even more shocked if they are not looking at free agents to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. The Yankees need starting pitching and they need some power hitting, at least for the short term. Let’s make a move!

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WHERE THE YANKEES NEED TO BE LOOKING...


As the Yankees approach the All-Star break, it is probably time to look at the team and take a healthy, objective view of the state of the team. Last week, Joe Girardi made a statement that the starting rotation is not going to change before the break. We know that CC Sabathia is at least a month away and that Michael Pineda is not coming back before August. With the team less than 5 games over .500, it is time to make a move.


Vidal Nuno and David Phelps have done their best, and maybe they might become premier starters someday. However, it is clear that they are not going to get it done for us this season. While I am not saying that we should give up on them, we need to look at more experienced people. We here at BYB have made recommendations, but maybe it is time for a fresh look.


We like Jason Hammel. As a successful starter in the Chicago Cubs organization, there are strong rumors that he is on the market. He is 31 years old, and he is having a great season with the Cubs. He has an ERA of 2.81 and a WHIP of 0.984, while getting six wins in 13 starts. With more support, his record would probably be much better. His HR/9 over the season so far is 0.6, which would make him a very appealing option for the Yankees.


The rumor mill has had Kyle Kendrick’s name in lights all season, and maybe with good reason. Despite having an ERA of 4.09, he is the owner of a 2-6 record. Still, he his two wins in his last three starts, so momentum is positive for him right now. His 8 years’ of successful experience in the majors may be exactly what the Yankees need right now. Nevertheless, the Yankees would have to pick up his big contract, which comes with its own risks. Maybe the motivation of playing for a winning team might turn him around and make him a successful pitcher again.


Justin Masterson is a guy that should be available for the right price. The Cleveland Indians know that this is his contract year, and they may be ready to make a move. While he has success in his career, he has hit a rough patch lately. He is averaging just under 6 innings per start, and his ERA just peaked over 5. His K/9 is 8.1, which is still very good for a major league starter and a clear sign that he is still a strikeout pitcher. His HR/9 of 0.5 is well below league average, which makes him an appealing trade target for someone who may be pitching in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. There is more downside on him in that he still gives up lots of base runners (WHIP of 1.524 this season). He is still 29 years old, and perhaps a little motivation may get his productivity moving in the right direction.


Bronson Arroyo’s name has gotten attention as a possible addition to the rotation. Honestly, it did not look very promising after a dreadful April and now he's on the DL for the first time in his career, read HERE. Nevertheless, in his eight starts since then, he has a 5-2 record with one no-decision and a combined ERA of 2.70. Opponents’ batting average over that stretch is .246, and their OPS is a paltry .664. He also has some endurance, having failed to come out for the seventh inning only once during that stretch, which may provide some rest for the bullpen. The Diamondbacks are having a terrible season, currently fighting it out with the Padres for last place. Could they be convinced that they are better off trading their 37-year old, 2-year, $23.5M pitcher for some young, future talent? The Yankees certainly have some advantage here, and they should consider it.


Whatever the Yankees do, they need to do something. Phelps and Nuno are not going to make this team competitive, at least not in the near-term. While the farm may have some developing talent, they are exactly that – still developing. This is the 20th anniversary of the last time the Yankees failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive years. Something tells me that they are not going to be giving out commemorative cups for that milestone. Unless they want that streak to end this year, they need to realize that a course-correction is overdue.

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Monday, June 9, 2014

THE YANKEES TOP 2014 MLB DRAFT PICKS


The Yankees made some good moves this past week in the 2014 MLB Draft, focusing on pitching in the early rounds. In fact, their first six picks were pitchers, which is telling of their strategy for the future. After all, pitching wins.


The Yankees gave up their first round pick when they acquired Brian McCann, so their first pick in the second round (55th pick overall) was pitcher Jacob Lindgren, a junior at Mississippi State University. This year, Lindgren converted from starter to reliever, and his fastball velocity jumped from the high 80’s to 93-94 miles per hour. His ERA went from 4.18 in 2013 to 0.81 this year, and his K/9 climbed from 10.45 to 16.27. As a left-handed reliever, he could serve as a valuable weapon out of the bullpen for the Yankees in the next few years.


Austin DeCarr was the Yankees’ third round pick, a right-handed power starter out of the Salisbury School. He has a fastball which can reach the mid-90’s, and both a curveball and changeup that have gotten scouts’ attention, which balance out to a nice arsenal of pitches. The Yankees are hoping that they will be able to build up his durability and eventually get him into a starting spot.


The Yankees picked Jordan Montgomery in the 4th round and 122nd overall. Montgomery was University of South Carolina’s top starter, billed as a hard-throwing left-hander. He is currently 8-5 with an ERA of 3.42 and a K/9 of 8.55 this year. He is averaging just over 6 innings per start, and is a solid fourth round pick with good potential.


In the fifth round, the Yankees selected Central Michigan University junior Jordan Foley. Foley has a fastball in the mid-90’s, with a K/9 of just under 8.0 for his college career. His average IP/Start is just over 6.5 innings, making him a resilient right-handed starter. Scouting reports are projecting that he may be able to throw relief as well as start games, which makes him a versatile option for the Yankees.


In the sixth round, yet another pitcher was selected, this time Mississippi State University right-hander Jonathan Holder. Holder is 6’ 2” and 247 pounds, a big guy who has a strong record of accomplishment as the MSU closer. His K/9 in his college career is 12.64 and his K/BB is 7.9. These are strong indicators that he has exceptional control and ability to blow hitters away.



There is a lot of optimism in the Yankee farm system right now. The Yankees have made some strong moves to bolster their pitching talent. Andy PettitteDerek Jeter, and Jorge Posada all were drafted and went through the Yankees farm system. One day, these guys may share that spotlight.

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

THE RETURN OF CARLOS BELTRAN


To say that the Yankees hitting needs some help is a statement of the obvious. The Yankees have scored three runs or fewer in twenty-three of their first 55 games, and rank below the American League average in every major hitting category except singles. Yankees Universe got some good news this week, as it appears that Carlos Beltran is returning to the team soon.


Late last week, Beltran was able to take batting practice and swing the bat without pain. Beltran said he was relieved at the level of comfort he felt. So were we. Surgery to deal with the bone spur in his right elbow would have kept him out until at least August, and we are all tired of the multi-year injury spell that is plaguing the Yankees.


Right now, the Yankees’ lineup lacks a legitimate threat to go yard, and Beltran would fill that need quite well. He was one of the blockbuster acquisitions the Yankees made this past offseason, signed to a 3-year, $45M contract. Carlos Beltran produced 20+ homers, 80+ RBI, and .800+ OPS for the last three straight years. He made the All-Star team in each of those years. He also showed good durability, recording 140 or more games in each of those years. It seemed like a good investment, and it still may be. The next few weeks should tell.


Of course, Beltran’s health is not without risks. You cannot fight Father Time, and 37 year olds do need to pay more attention to their resilience. He also has history with injuries. He missed most of the second half of 2009 with a nagging knee injury and the first half of 2010 recovering from knee surgery. Nevertheless, that was then and this is now.


Next up for Beltran is a trip to Florida to get about a week or two of rehab games to get game ready. Barring the unforeseen, the Yankees expect him to return some time during their next road trip in Kansas City, Seattle, and Oakland.


I believe we are all tired of the bad news regarding our players getting hurt. I would love to see the Opening Day lineup actually out on the field playing up to expectations. The good news here is that Beltran is ready to go and could be back within a week. It could not be soon enough.

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Monday, June 2, 2014

KNOWING WHEN TO PLAY & WHEN NOT TO PLAY


These past several weeks have seen a lot of drama around the Yankees and their ever-growing injury list. One of the more concerning stories has been around Mark Teixeira and his wrist. After hitting his stride in late April, hitting 9 home runs in about 3½ weeks, he suddenly cooled off. From May 18 to the 25th, he went 5 for 29 (a .172 average) with only one extra base hit. Then we got the news that we all dreaded – his surgically repaired wrist was bothering him.

After a couple of days, he consulted with his surgeon, Dr. Keith Raskin, who confirmed that his wrist had not suffered any structural damage, but needed rest. Meredith Marakovits, YES clubhouse report, tweeted out the following:

Teixeira: spoke to surgeon said 99% sure theres nothing wrong...surprised he hasn't needed more days off to date #Yankees

While the first half of that tweet may have sounded like good news – he needs no further surgery – I thought the second half was somewhat disturbing. The doctor is surprised that he has not gotten more days off. As if the expectation was, based on the surgery, that he should have been getting days off. Or perhaps that the wrist has not been bothering him sooner. Or bothering him more. No matter how you slice it, he has been working it too much. Now he is trying to get back to form, maybe too soon, and leaving games with pain and with inflammation in his wrist.


In Spring Training, Tex said that he expected to have a 150 game, 30 HR, 100 RBI season. At that time, I expressed concern about those aspirations, how he needed to concern himself with his health and durability . Apparently, this way of thinking is not part of the Yankee brain trust. While we all admire Tex’s determination, being ready to play every day despite how much it hurts, the Yankees need better judgment here. By the way, Tex is not the only person who needs their rest time managed.


We are in full swing of the final lap of Derek Jeter’s career. The fans are coming out to see him one last time, every game. I actually admired Joe Girardi’s courage to say “I wasn’t hired to put on a farewell tour”  when he was questioned about sitting Jeter during a game against the Red Sox. "I have to manage him with a focus of winning games and keeping him healthy, not being a farewell tour” (read HERE). Bravo to you, Joe, for trying to manage Jeter well! Still, he has only sat Jeter 8 times this season. That comes out to about one game out of every six that Derek Jeter is not playing. He has only come in to a game as a pinch hitter once this season. When he has played, he has only DH’ed once. All the other games have been in the field. Surely, we can do better than that, before he suffers an injury in his final season.


My mother-in-law loves to tell me that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. She would be right in this case. The problem is that prevention does not come without a price. It is hard to give days off to players when your roster is as thin as the Yankees’ right now. The problem only gets worse as players come off the DL and back on the active roster. Whether you are talking about C.C. SabathiaMichael PinedaCarlos BeltranShawn Kelly, or any of the others, whenever they come back, they are not coming back at 100%.


At some point, you have to face the reality of the situation and give these guys rest. Pushing them because you do not have a good alternative is kicking the can down the road. Last year the Yankees fired strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, blaming the team’s injuries on him. It is good that they recognized the problem, but they need to start applying the lessons they learned. The human body is not a machine that you can simply keep pushing and replace broken down parts with new ones from the shop. Recoveries take time and patience, and the Yankees need to start exercising those disciplines now.

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Sunday, May 25, 2014

IT'S TIME FOR A WAKE-UP CALL


Sometimes you just have to wonder about the Yankees. The team made a serious investment in starting pitching, the bullpen, and in the outfield. Yet here we are, struggling to stay above .500, when we should be dominating the division. How is this possible?


The scary thing about it is that most of the games the Yankees have played (31 out of 48) have been against teams with a losing record. There is very little difference in the Yankees win/ loss percentage against winning teams vs. losing teams. As of this writing, against teams with a .550 winning percentage or better, the Yankees are 7-5. Against everyone else, the team is 18-18.


Here is the thing. Having a record two games better than even against winning teams is not an indicator of a high-caliber championship team. Still, if they have that kind of record against winning teams, it shows that they are about on par with them. If that is the case, then why are they not blowing away poor teams? In fact, it should be a concern to the team that the only series in which they have swept this season was shortened series (due to a rainout) against the Cubs. They are splitting series against teams that they should be sweeping.


Part of it is definitely the injury bug that is plaguing this year's Yankees, just like last year’s team. It is hard to get on a winning track when the backups are filling starting roles every day, and Bleeding Yankee Blue has been vocal about that. That is not to mention the fact that the majority of the starting rotation is either injured or underperforming. Again, we have written about it numerous times before, and a trade to bring in some healthy, durable talent certainly would help.

The bigger part of the problem seems to be the general demeanor of the team. There is no sense of urgency to this team. There is no sense of alarm that a third of the season is over and we are still in third place, hovering at about .500. This is where I have to look at the leadership.


I would never want to criticize a legend like Derek Jeter, but he is the captain of the team and he has to bear some of the responsibility. I have heard nothing from any news feeds to indicate that the captain has called a closed door meeting with the team. I have not heard anything of Joe Girardi yelling at the team to get them to wake up.


In the movie Miracle, one of my favorite scenes was when Team USA phoned it in for a tie against a mediocre opponent, and was ready to hit the night out on the town. Coach Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, told the team to get back out on the ice, and called them out. “You think you can come in here and play the Norwegian National Team, and tie them, and then go to the Olympics and win?!? You’ve got another thing coming”. He rode them until they puked on the ice. Maybe it is time Girardi did something similar.


Joe Torre did not have a problem getting the 1998 Yankees to wake up. After obliterating the opposition for the majority of the season, they went on a 12-16 stretch into September, just before getting ready for the playoffs. After yet another frustrating loss, he did not wait for the next day. Before leaving for the night, he called a team meeting and gave them a piece of his mind (read here).

One thing is for sure - this team is not where it should be or where it needs to be. Besides, it is not as if the team lacks talent, even with all the injuries. Nevertheless, if they are going to compete for a World Series title, they have to get on track and do so quickly. Because if they think they can split series with the Cubs and White Sox, and then go to the postseason and win, they too have another thing coming.

It’s time.

Also posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue