Analysis

Chase Headley vs. The Shift

Defensive shifts have totally changed the way baseball has been played in the field over the past several seasons. It seems that every year as more data is made accessible to teams more and more players are getting shifted on. It’s gotten to the point where shifts might actually be one of the biggest factors in the uptick of offensive output by second basemen we saw in 2016.

Last season there were 34,081 instances where a batter faced a shift. This is up roughly 10,000 from 2015, and 20,000 from 2014. If you go all the way back to 2010, the earliest season for which we have recorded shift data, the total number of instances of a batter facing a shift shrinks down to 3,323. That means that teams are currently shifting 10 times more often than they were 7 years ago.

How has this affected hitters’ performance? Well, in 2010 batters averaged .293 when teams did not use a defensive shift, and .306 when they were being shifted against. This seems counterintuitive, considering the whole reason for a defensive shift is to keep batters from getting hits. A few managers seemed to recognize this, and in 2011 we saw slightly fewer shifts compared to the previous year. However, what we also saw in 2011 was a dramatic drop in batting averages against the shift, with hitters only batting .289 against shifts, this time 2 points lower than when they weren’t hitting against the shift. A lot of teams took notice, and in 2012 we saw shifts nearly double in frequency from 2011, and that number has been increasing ever since, in spite of some fairly inconsistent outcomes.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2010          .306               .293              + .013

2011          .289               .291               – .002

2012          .301               .293              + .008

2013          .291               .294               – .003

2014          .297               .295               + .002

2015          .287               .298               – .011

2016          .297               .298               – .001

As you can see, more often than not the shift succeeds in getting batters out, but not by much, and not with much consistency from season to season. Still, defenses use the shift because it “usually” helps.

These, of course, are league averages. For some hitters, the shift is much more frustrating than for other hitters. One such hitter for which the shift has evidently become quite frustrating is none other than much beloved Yankees third baseman, Chase Headley.

In 2015, when Headley saw a huge increase in defensive shifts against him from the previous season, he noticeably struggled.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2015          .284               .350              – .066

Then in 2016, Headley adjusted, and the numbers looked very different.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2016          .311               .304               + .007

Now it seems Headley is looking to continue his relative success against the shift into 2017. In the Yankees’s season opener on Sunday, in his very first at bat of the season, he turned a pitch inside-out for a single down the third base line, where no one was standing. Then in the 7th, with a runner on 1st, Headley beat the shift again with a well-placed bunt single down a yet again vacant third base line. He finished the day 3-4, batting 1.000 against the shift.

So it would seem Headley is determined to continue his crusade against the defensive shift, and he’s willing to take advantage of it in any way he can, with the hope that teams will eventually start fielding a normal defensive alignment against him, allowing him to get more line drive hits through the infield gaps. The last season in which Headley saw virtually no defensive shifts, 2012, he slashed .286, .376, .498 for the Padres and was a 7.5 fWAR player. There’s no guarantee that he will ever reach that level of production again, in fact I would never bet on it considering how flukey his power numbers were that year, but hey, if a defense first 3B like Headley can continue to finagle his way onto the bases, he has the potential to be an above average player and not a huge headache for Yankee fans.

Game Recap

It’s the On-Season!

So yeah, due to various trips and a lot of coursework it’s been a while since the last time posted, but that’s okay because there’s only one person who really reads this blog anyway. Hey dad.

Nonetheless, yesterday of course was opening day, so there’s really no better time to get back into the proverbial swing of things. For whatever reason, the Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday afternoon in the first game of the 2017 Major League Baseball season. Wow, it feels good to type that out. We are officially watching baseball that actually matters. After a fairly lackluster offseason around the league, this has been a long time coming.

Unfortunately, the Yankees were back to their old opening day tricks in game 1, losing their first game of the season for the sixth year in a row by a final score of 7-3. All 7 of the Rays runs came in the first 3 innings of the game, and all 7 were attributed to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who only last 2.2 IP. It was a really really rough outing for Tanaka, especially after his near immaculate spring. It’s just another subtle reminder that spring training games don’t count I suppose.

As per his usual game strategy, Tanaka was pitching a lot to the lower half of the zone, which is typically good if you’re a pitcher and you want to keep the ball out of the air. That’s not the story of what happened though. While he managed to strike out 3, Tanaka only got one out on the ground, yielding a disproportionate amount of fly balls, two of which turned into home runs. The first was by the Yankee-killer himself Evan Longoria, who hit the first home run of the 2017 MLB season. It was a shot that just cleared the left field wall at Tropicana in the first inning. The second was a solo shot by Logan Morrison in the 3rd.

It’s just a part of Tanaka’s game that he’s going to give up a decent amount of home runs. In his first three seasons he’s had a HR/9 of 1.14 and a HR/FB % of 14.1, which is pretty terrible. The reason why Tanaka has been able to thrive as an MLB pitcher though is that he doesn’t allow a lot of runners on base, sporting an excellent career WHIP of 1.04. So, usually when the inevitable home run comes along, it’s relatively harmless.

Sunday was a bad combination of Tanaka allowing a lot of runners on base (9) and allowing a couple home runs in a very short span of game. You hate to see it happen, but Tanaka, much like the Yankees, has historically been a slow starter, so don’t take this first game as any indication of what his season will be like. I’m personally pretty high on the guy right now since he’s coming off one of his best seasons and he’s pitching in what could potentially be a contract year should he do well enough to opt out of his contract at the end of the season.

The one positive thing that came out of Tanaka’s poor performance was the fact that we got to see a good portion of the bullpen in action, specifically the middle relief guys who represent somewhat of a question mark for the team this season. They were pretty stellar all-in-all, allowing 0 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in a combined 5.1 innings pitched. They also struck out 7. The order went Tommy Layne, Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, each getting an inning of work with the exception of Warren, who went 2.1 IP.

Things were nearly but really not quite as bad on the offensive side of the ball as well. The team scored 3 runs on 9 hits, going 3-10 with runners in scoring position. The bottom half of the lineup essentially carried the team, with Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Aaron Judge combining to go 7-12 with 3 runs and 1 RBI. The Yankees opened their scoring in the top of the second inning with a couple of singles by Castro and Headley, followed by an RBI double by Aaron Judge. He absolutely smoked the ball into left field, a one-hopper off the wall. Judge finished the game 1-4, only striking out once, which sets his K% to 25% on the season, a drastic reduction from last year. Let’s see if it holds up.

Where the bottom of the lineup shined, the top of the lineup was absolutely miserable. Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday combined to go 1-17 with 1 BB and 4 K’s. The lack of output from these hitters and Tanaka’s rough outing are the two main takeaways from this game.

Thankfully, these are the types of performances that we have no reason to expect from these guys as we move forward into the season. It was a rough game, but there’s a reason why they play 162 of them. What the Yankees need to do is just focus on improving from their April last season, when they went 8-14 on the month. That’s a really difficult hole to climb out of. If the team had even gone .500 last April, they potentially make the playoffs. So, the first loss of the season? Not a huge deal. It was going to happen eventually. There’s a lot of young guys on the roster, and growing pains are inevitable. Hopefully this team can put things together relatively quickly though and get off to a better start this year.

Spring Training

Spring Training Game 19: Yankees 3, Phillies 1

Wednesday night was the Big Mike show, hands down. Pineda started yesterday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies and he was immaculate, throwing 5 perfect innings and striking out 8 on just over 50 pitches. He was missing bats and inducing weak contact left and right. See for yourself:

Over the last several seasons, Pineda has been one of, if not the most frustrating pitcher for the Yankees due to his inconsistency. He’ll have games like this, and then in his very next start he won’t make it out of the third. It was fun to watch him doing his thing last night, but we all already know what Pineda is capable of. It’s a matter of performing that way on a consistent basis. I have all sorts of doubts as to whether or not he’ll ever be the type of pitcher who can stay healthy and do that, but who knows. 2017 is a new season. We’ll see what it brings for Big Mike.

Greg Bird opened up the scoring with a solo home run to right field.

Haven't you heard? The Bird is the word.

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This came in a game where he nearly didn’t even start. Chris Carter was originally supposed to be in the lineup, but he got scratched with the flu. Bird seized the opportunity, showing us all why he’s the one who deserves that starting job at first base. He finished the day 2-3 with 1 R and 1 RBI.

Gary Sanchez continued his spring training roll as well, going 2-2 with a couple of singles and an RBI, which came on a ball that he absolutely ripped down the third base line and bounced off the fielder’s glove. Brett Gardner, who was on second, showed off the wheels and scored easily. Gardy finished the day 1-3.

The team had a bit of a scare in the top of the 7th when a wild pitch by Chad Green bounced in the dirt and hit C Austin Romine on his throwing hand. It was a pretty freak bounce, but it looked like it got him pretty bad. There was an audible “Fuck!” on the broadcast. He was taken out of the game, but x-rays on his hand were negative, so it looks like it wasn’t anything serious.

Here are some other lines of note:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury: 0-3
DH Matt Holliday: 0-3
3B Chase Headley: 1-3
RF Aaron Hicks: 0-1, 1 BB, 1 K
SS Tyler Wade: 0-2
SS Gleyber Torres: 1-1, 1 R, 1 double
CF Dexter Fowler: 0-0, 1 RBI sac fly
LHP Aroldis Chapman: 1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K
RHP Chad Green: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 K

You can catch the full box score here, and video highlights here.

Today the Yankees take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:07 p.m. EST. The game won’t be televised, but Toronto will be doing a radio broadcast.

Spring Training

Spring Training game 18: Rays 10, Yankees 6

The score from Tuesday’s game looks rough, but I’m going to go ahead and blame that pretty much entirely on Johnny Barbato and Deitrich Enns. The two combined for 1.1 IP and 8 ER. Outside of that, a lot of guys actually had pretty good games.

Rotation candidate Luis Severino made the start yesterday. He pitched 3 innings for the first time this spring, allowing 1 ER on 2 H and 1 BB while striking out 4. The one run came from a home run off the bat of Rickie Weeks Jr., of all people. Besides the home run, and a double by Tim Beckham, Sev was mostly keeping the ball out of the air. A good start overall.

The Yankee bats were alive once again, as they plated 6 runs on 10 hits. The standout performance probably has to be Gleyber Torres, who went 2-3 with a double and his second home run of the spring, scoring 2 and driving in 3. His OPS is up to a staggering, yet inconsequential, 1.458.

Gary Sanchez joined the base parade as well, going 1-3 with an opposite field home run, his fourth of the spring. His OPS is up to a slightly less impressive, yet equally inconsequential, 1.195. That’s not the Gary story of this game though. The Gary story of the game  came in the 5th inning, when the Great Gambino showed off his hustle by swiping second base. It was his first stolen base of the spring. Sanchez continues to bat 2nd in the order.

Greg Bird had himself a game as well, going 2-3 with a double and a triple. HIS OPS is up to an astronomical(ly inconsequential) 1.500! As a Big Bird supporter, these past few weeks have been very exciting for me. It was nice to see him healthy and back in game action in the Arizona Fall League back in November after the injury that sidelined him for basically all of last year. It’s nice to seem him healthy this spring. It’s even better to see him excelling at the plate. Depth Charts, Steamer, and Fans projections all have him in the low-mid 20’s for his 2017 home run total. All of those are based off projections of 100-130 games played though. I think with the Austin injury and Chris Carter not actually being a viable 1B option, Bird ends up getting a lot more playing time than initially projected, and his home run total approaches 30, if it doesn’t eclipse it. That’s my Bird prediction.

Here are some other lines of note:

SS Ronald Torreyes: 1-3, 1 R, 1 K
3B Miguel Andujar: 1-2, 1 K, 1 RBI
RF Aaron Judge: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K
LF Clint Frazier: 1-3, 2 R
LF Tyler Wade: 1-1
CF Mason Williams: 0-2
2B Jorge Mateo: 0-1, 1 K
LHP Jon Niese: 1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K
RHP Jonathan Holder: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 K

You can catch the full box score here, and video highlights (there are few because the game wasn’t televised) here.

Today the Yankees play the Philadelphia Phillies at 6:35 PM EST. It will thankfully be televised on YES.

Analysis · Spring Training

The Rotation Competition

Seeing as how we’re exactly halfway through spring training at this point (17 games down, 17 more to go), I figured it would be a good idea to check in on how the five pitchers competing for the fourth and fifth rotation spots are doing. The candidates are (still) as follows, and in no particular order:

  1. Bryan Mitchell
  2. Chad Green
  3. Adam Warren
  4. Luis Severino
  5. Luis Cessa

Two of these guys will end up in the rotation, a couple more in the bullpen, and at least one will inevitably get sent down to Scranton before the season starts. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve each done so far. Bear in mind, though, that Girardi and management are looking more at stuff than results, at least for now, so we may not be seeing everything that they’re seeing. Nonetheless, here we go.

Bryan Mitchell

3 GS, 11.1 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 7 K, 3.97 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. ATL – 3 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. PIT – 2.1 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 K
vs. DET – 4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K

Just looking at the stat/game lines quickly, it’s pretty clear that the Pittsburgh game created a damaging outlier for Mitchell. And really it was just the second inning of that game, where he gave up 3 of those 4 runs. If you get rid of that inning (because one inning isn’t going to decide someone’s spring training fate one way or the other), then Mitchell has allowed only 2 ER in 10.1 IP this spring. Pretty damn good.

It’s worth noting that at this time last year, before his injury, Mitchell was competing for a bullpen spot on the Yankees 25 man roster, and it looked like he was going to get it. Unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. However, he did eventually get the call up later in the season, making 5 starts for the club and pitching to a 3.24 ERA, although that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. In 25 IP, Mitchell’s K totals were low (11) and his BB totals were high (12). Not that he’s ever really been a strikeout pitcher, but you never want to see someone’s walk total higher than their strikeouts. The good news is that based on what he’s done this spring, Mitchell seems to be on top of his game once again.

Chad Green

2 GS, 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1.59 ERA, 1.94 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. BAL – 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 0 K
vs. DET – 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 K
vs. PHI – 2 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 R, 2 K

A quick look tells us that Green’s outcomes have been good, but ultimately very lucky with that WHIP approaching 2.00. Nearly averaging a walk per inning, Green hasn’t been able to go very deep into his appearances, reaching his pitch limits rather quickly. You’d think someone competing for a starting rotation job would have thrown more than 2 innings in a game by this point in the spring, but Green’s inability to work innings quickly and efficiently has hindered him so far.

One thing he does have going for him though is a major league track record, even if it’s not a spectacular one. Green started 8 games for the Yankees last season after excelling in AAA ball (1.52 ERA/2.17 FIP in 94.2 IP) during the first half of the year. In the majors Green struggled a good deal though, sporting a 4.73 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 45.2 IP. However, his K/9 was strong at 10.25. He proved to the team that he was capable of throwing at least 5 innings in a game on a regular basis, which has become something of a (low) baseline for today’s major league starters. If he can rein in his command, then Green could make a strong case for himself, however if he continues to walk guys and be wild, I don’t the Yankees will be super eager to bring on a high-4’s ERA starter for the rotation.

Adam Warren

2 GS, 8 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3.38 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, o BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BAL – 3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 HR, 3 K
vs. TB – 3 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 2 HR, 0 K

The home run ball has been Warren’s kryptonite this spring. If you could take away three swings of the bat, he’d have a 0.00 ERA. Unfortunately, you can’t do that. Fortunately, these last couple games seem pretty flukey for Warren, who has a career 0.94 HR/9. It’s spring training, weird things happen. Otherwise, he’s looked very much like himself so far, using his 5-pitch arsenal to generate outs in the field.

Warren has by far the most major league experience out of all the candidates. A lot of that experience, however, comes from the pen as a long relief guy. In the 205 MLB games he’s played in, he’s only started 21. Most of those starts came during the 2015 season with the Yankees when the time was in some pretty dire straits with rotation injuries. During that 2015 stretch, Warren pitched to a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP), striking out 67 and walking 30 in 96 IP, while averaging about 6 IP per start. A mid-3’s ERA and 6 IP per start is pretty damn good for a fourth or fifth starter. That was more than a full season ago, but at least we know that Warren has the potential for those types of numbers as a regular rotation guy already.

Luis Severino

2 GS, 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4.15 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. TOR – 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. TOR – 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HR, 4 K

Luis Severino had a very clear mission heading into the spring, and it’s very unclear as to whether or not he’s actually accomplished what he’s needed to. Sev was more or less given a rotation spot heading into 2016, but his significant struggles early on (8.50 ERA in 71 IP) lead to a AAA demotion a couple months into the season. This was due largely in part to the weakness/lack of his changeup, which made it easier for hitters to just lay off his slider and sit on the fastball. Fastball/slider is an effective arsenal for a relief pitcher, as Severino showed at the end of last season, pitching to a 0.39 ERA from the bullpen, but not for a starting pitcher.

Severino has definitely been working the changeup more into games so far this spring, but to mixed results. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. The important thing is he’s throwing it more frequently and letting hitters know that he actually has one, and it’s something they need to watch out for. That’s how he was able to pick up 4 K’s in just over 2 innings in his second start against the Blue Jays.

He’s scheduled to face off against the Rays tonight after not appearing in game action for a couple weeks due to his participation in the WBC, so we’ll see how he does in his return.

Luis Cessa

1 GS, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 5 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BOS – 2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 1 K
vs. PIT – 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 K

Cessa has looked a lot like a back of the rotation starter so far this spring, which is good and bad. He’s not exactly impressing, but as a pitcher who has already shown he can make starts at the major league level, he’s not doing anything as of now to suggest that he can’t continue to do that.

Last season along with Green, Cessa made a good number of starts toward the end of the year to fill in for some holes in the rotation created by injuries. He made 9 starts and pitched to a 4.01 ERA (4.21 FIP) in those games. He wasn’t an overpowering pitcher by any means, but his astronomically low 1.39 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) is indicative of the excellent command he’s shown. He makes a living as a started by making guys swing at the ball and put it in play. Sometimes that works to his advantage, sometimes it doesn’t, which is basically what you’d expect from a bottom of the rotation guy.

Cessa has continued to show that level of command this spring, walking just 1 in his 6 IP so far. Also, according to MLB.com’s spring training game logs, which I suspect are somehow inaccurate due to what I’m about to tell you, Cessa has thrown 39 pitches so far this spring, 34 of them for strikes. That’s 87% strikes, which might sound amazing but it honestly isn’t very good at all. You want your pitchers to throw strikes, but if hitters know the ball is going to end up in the zone 90% of the time, they’re going to swing and they’re going to get hits.

*     *     *

So that’s the general rundown so far. It’s still only halfway through the spring, so not too much is clear on how this competition will play out. As of now, my gut is telling me Mitchell and Cessa get the spots, with Warren and Green ending up in the bullpen and Sev heading down to AAA to start the season. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played though, so we’ll see. I’m sure my prediction will be nowhere close to the reality.

Prospects

Fangraphs 2017 Top 100 Prospects

Today Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs released his list of the top 100 MLB prospects heading into the 2017 season. The list features 8 Yankees in total, with SS Gleyber Torres unsurprisingly ranked as the top among them, although not quite as high as most other lists had him. Here are the bombers who made the cut:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
43. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

#7 overall seems like the most appropriate ranking for Torres so far. Obviously the top 5 and top 3 rankings are exciting, but he’s still just too young and unproven to be up there with guys like Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benitendi, and Dansby Swanson. Give him another year or two and Torres could easily be topping these lists, but for now cautious optimism in the best stance to take. Furthermore, I think Longenhagan’s assessment of the shortstop as being “built like a late-60’s Camaro” could not possibly be more apt. He acknowledges that Torres might not hack it at short in the bigs, but has the potential to be a star at second or third as well.

While this list has players like Frazier, Rutherford, and Kap lower than most rankings, he does squeeze in a couple more players like Fowler and Sheffield toward the bottom of the list. The only team with more top 100 players were the Braves with 9.

One last note: I still think it’s amazing how we continue to see Kap climbing up prospect rankings in spite of missing nearly all of last season. It doesn’t come as a complete surprise though. The kid has a four-pitch arsenal with a pitcher’s frame and good command. That’s pretty much everything you could hope for in a pitching prospect. Hopefully we see him in a little MLB action toward the end of the season, with an eye on the 2018 rotation.

Spring Training

Spring Training Reassignments

So the club made eleven reassignments on Sunday. These guys have been taken off the spring training roster and are heading down to minor league camp.

No big surprises here. The biggest name on this list is by far LHP Justus Sheffield, the Yankees’s top lefty prospect and a top 10 MLB LHP prospect, but seeing as how the 20-year old figures to begin the season in AA there was no real reason to keep him on the roster. He’d just be eating up innings that could be going to other guys who are battling for those two open rotation spots. His final stats for the 2 outings he made this spring are: 1-0, 3.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, and 4 K. All of this means absolutely nothing, but it was fun to get to see such a highly touted prospect throw a little bit for the big league club.

Both LHP Daniel Camarena (5 IP) and LHP Joe Mantiply (4.2 IP) actually saw a fair amount of playing time compared to the rest of these guys, and could see some time in the bigs this year as swing men, depending on how things go.