Early Returns on Some Former Yankees

Delving into the production of ex-Yankees is something of a tradition - both for fans of the team, and for myself in my time with The Yankee Analysts and It's About the Money. We cannot help but wonder what the departed players are doing; not in a creepy ex-significant other sort of way (I hope). Rather, we use it a form of hope. Generally speaking, it is hope that the Yankees made the right move by letting the player walk or, alternatively, sending the guy back. Although, to be fair, sometimes it's fun to play the hindsight game from the other perspective, as well ... I still miss Never Nervous Yangervis. With that in mind, I figured I would look into a dozen players that have headed elsewhere over the last two seasons, focusing on those that had some semblance of a role with the Yankees.

Chris Capuano, Milwaukee Brewers 17.0 IP, 17 H, 13 BB, 17 K, 3.71 ERA, 6.42 FIP, -0.3 fWAR

Capuano was something of a punching bag last year - both on the field, and among fans (particularly here). He has been less awful this year, based solely on run prevention, but his peripherals suggest that he's a strong breeze away from being just as bad in 2016. He's a serviceable mop-up pitcher (a role that most any pitcher in Triple-A or the Majors could fill) ... so ... there's that.

Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates .296/.408/.347, 11 R, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, 114 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR (120 PA)

Cervelli has been the second-best catcher in baseball since the beginning of 2016 by both wRC+ and fWAR (behind only Buster Posey in both categories). He showed flashes of this when he was with the Yankees (he hit .278/.348/.381 in pinstripes, after all), but he never put it all together. The most important aspect of his rise may be the simple fact that he has been able to stay healthy since heading to Pittsburgh.

Stephen Drew, Washington Nationals .143/.167/.257, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, 9 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR (36 PA)

We were angry last season when Drew blocked Rob Refsnyder. Imagine the vitriol that he is facing in Nationals fans circles, as he (and the similarly inept Danny Espinosa) block Trea Turner - a legitimate top-20 prospect.

Ramon Flores, Milwaukee Brewers .188/.288/.219, 5 R, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, 39 wRC+, -0.1 (73 PA)

Flores may have never earned a real shot in pinstripes, much to the chagrin of our very own Brad Vietrogoski, but he's still just 23. The rebuilding Brewers are allowing him to play in some capacity nearly every day, so it bears watching to see if he can earn his keep.

Garrett Jones, Yomiuri Giants (NPB) .217/.329/.400, 12 R, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 0 SB (140 PA)

Jones seemed poised to contribute as a back-up option at 1B, LF, RF, and DH last season, but the opportunity never really came to pass. Perhaps the Yankees saw something, though, as Jones didn't earn another shot in the Majors after the team initially cut him loose. His base salary this year is $2.8 MM, so I'm guessing that he's not complaining.

John Ryan Murphy, Minnesota Twins .075/.119/.100, 0 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, -52 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR (44 PA)

As Aaron Hicks shows flashes of turning it around, Murphy finds himself in Triple-A trying to figure things out (he's batting .111/.182/.111 in three games since the demotion). He's a few days shy of his 25th birthday, and he was quite good in 2014 and 2015, so this feels like a prolonged slump. I still think that he can be a solid-average big league catcher.

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox 14.2 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 17 K, 1.23 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 0.5 fWAR

By bWAR, 2015 was Robertson's worst full season. His 3.41 ERA and 115 ERA+ were his highest since 2010, even as he posted career-best marks in BB/9 and K/BB, without becoming much more hittable. Sometimes that's just the way it goes. Robertson was still very effective, though, and he's been quite good thus far in 2016. Fun fact: he's tied for 3rd among all relievers in fWAR since coming up for good in 2009.

Brendan Ryan, Syracuse Chiefs (Triple-A) .263/.305/.382, 7 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, 99 wRC+ (83 PA)

If Ryan could hit like this in the Majors, he might be an everyday player, even with his defense regressing to the slightly above-average range. Unfortunately, he can't.

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Fun with Numbers II, Or: He’s on-pace for what?!

A bit less than a year ago, I tackled some of the most interesting "on-pace for" lines throughout the Majors. It is an exercise in futility, given the fact that we are dealing with excruciatingly small sample sizes (to wit, the Yankees have 97% of their season remaining) - but it is fun nevertheless, as it gives us a glimpse into just how early it actually is, and the hilarious absurdity that we can see over a five or six game stretch. While every game certainly matters, and the counting stats are already booked, the odds of these numbers being representative of what we can expect going forward are incredibly remote. These projections are based on statistics that are current as of the morning of April 12, prior to any games being played. All numbers have been prorated to a full-ish season (650 PA for hitters, 33 starts for starting pitchers, current usage rate for relievers), and rounded where appropriate. And, again, this is just for fun. Let's start with a handful of Yankees.

Starlin Castro .450/.476/.850, 93 R, 62 HR, 247 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 15.5 fWAR

Didi Gregorius .333/.350/.500, 62 R, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 31 SB, 31 CS, 6.2 fWAR

Ronald Torreyes .800/.800/1.200, 260 R, 0 HR, 260 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 26.0 fWAR

Dellin Betances 97 G, 87 IP, 65 H, 65 BB, 194 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.10 FIP, 3.2 fWAR

Michael Pineda 33 GS, 165 IP, 264 H, 0 BB, 165 K, 10.80 ERA, 9.75 FIP, -6.6 fWAR

That's one hell of a bottom of the order, isn't it? And, yes, I know Torreyes isn't going to get anywhere near 650 PA (barring a series of unfortunate events the likes of which have never been seen) - but I find a great deal of humor in the fact that he's currently a career .545/.583/.818 hitter, and I'm trying to spread the gospel. There's something inherently likable about him; though, to be fair, I'm a sucker for utility players.

And I, for one, would not be shocked if Betances led the team in strikeouts. He was only 25 off the pace last season, after all.

Venturing outside of the Yankees, here are ten more from around the league:

Jose Altuve .286/.375/.429, 162 R, 20 HR, 41 RBI, 122 SB, 20 SB, 6.1 fWAR

Bryce Harper .313/.522/.813, 141 R, 57 HR, 85 RBI, 85 SB, 0 CS, 14.1 fwAR (and 198 BB/28 K)

Kendrys Morales .190/.208/.524, 54 R, 54 HR, 135 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 0.0 fWAR

Jorge Soler .130/.192/.261, 75 R, 25 HR, 75 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, -5.0 fWAR

Trevor Story .333/.357/1.111, 162 R, 162 HR, 278 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 16.2 fWAR

Eugenio Suarez .370/.433/.815, 195 R, 87 HR, 195 RBI, 22 SB, 0 CS, 13.0 fWAR

Jose Fernandez 33 GS, 187 IP, 165 H, 33 BB, 429 K, 7.94 ERA, 1.58 FIP, 9.9 fWAR

Martin Perez 33 GS, 204 IP, 149 H, 149 BB, 49 K, 3.65 ERA, 6.59 FIP, -3.3 fWAR

A.J. Ramos 65 G, 65 IP, 0 H, 130 BB, 34 K, 0.00 ERA, 8.35 FIP, -3.2 fWAR

Trevor Rosenthal 69 G, 77 IP, 46 H, 23 BB, 184 K, 0.00 ERA, -0.55 FIP, 11.5 fWAR

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Quick Hit: An Even Better Betances?

[caption id="attachment_80672" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Betances ST 2016 Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News[/caption] He's a lock to make the Opening Day roster and there's no doubt about what role he's going to play in this year's bullpen or how well he'll handle that role, but Dellin Betances is an interesting case this spring.  You'll recall that last year one of the leading ST storylines was "what's wrong with Betances???"  His early velocity was down, his command was spotty at best, and his ST stat line was ugly: 8.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 6 BB, 9 K.  Coming off his spectacular (and strenuous) debut relief season, there were questions aplenty about the impact that his heavy workload had on him and how that would carry over into the regular season.

Of course all that worry was for naught because Betances was lights out again in 2015.  But he did stumble a bit down the stretch, posting season-worst FIP, K %, and BB % values in September and giving up as many home runs then (3) as he had in the previous 5 months combined.  It would have made sense for some of last spring's worry to follow Betances into this year's camp after the rough finish to 2015, but that hasn't happened.  What also hasn't happened is a repeat of last spring's problems, as Betances has been utterly brilliant in his 2016 ST appearances thus far: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K.

Betances said all along last year that there was nothing to worry about and that he just needed some more time to get loose and get back into his normal groove.  Once he did, he was money.  I'm equal parts curious about what he's done differently this spring to get locked in so quickly and excited about what that may mean for the season to come.  Betances has always and to a certain degree will always battle bouts of inconsistency with his command because of how big he is, and it was a major problem for him in camp last year.  The fact that he hasn't walked a single batter this spring is an encouraging sign that he's learned how to be even better at repeating his mechanics and a frightening sign of what may be in store for the rest of the AL if that is true.

Betances has been arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball over the last 2 seasons, top 3 at the absolute worst.  If his ST performance so far compared to his ST performance last year is any indication, we may be in for his best season yet in 2016.

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Quick Hit: Bryan Mitchell, Reliable Righty Middle Reliever

[caption id="attachment_80641" align="aligncenter" width="575"]B Mitchell ST 2016 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption] Sorry, guys and gals.  Short posts are about all I have time for these days.  But I wanted to touch on Bryan Mitchell and his quiet dominance thus far in Spring Training.  Mitchell followed Ivan Nova in yesterday's game, the second straight time he's done that after getting the start in his first 2 ST appearances.  He was very effective, throwing 2.2 perfect innings with 2 strikeouts, and this comes after he pitched 3 scoreless innings with 1 hit and 1 K last Tuesday.

Mitchell has thrown 10.2 innings across 4 appearances so far this spring with only 1 earned run against him and 7 strikeouts.  He's been far less hittable than we've seen in the past (only 5 in those 10+ IP) and more importantly, his command has been better.  Mitchell has only walked 1 batter in his 4 appearances and that was in his first start on March 4th.  Since then his command has been spectacular.  According to the stats I've seen, he's thrown nothing but strikes in each of his last 2 appearances and only 8 out of 58 pitches for balls in all 4 outings.

Now some of that surely is a direct result of facing less-than-MLB-level hitting competition and guys who are still trying to get in the swing of things as they go through their ST routine (pun totally intended).  It's much easier to rare back and fire strikes when you're facing hitters who aren't in full regular season mode and aren't even average MLB hitters to begin with.  Mitchell most likely can't get away with throwing all strikes when he's facing a full big league lineup and pitching in a higher-pressure situation in a game that matters, and his ability to effectively handle those situations is still out for judgement.

But there's a clear method to what the Yankees are trying to do with him in these last 2 outings and it's not getting him prepared to be stretched out as Triple-A rotation depth.  Mitchell is being used as a middle reliever and you can bet Joe and the rest of his coaching staff are paying close attention to how he performs in that setting.  There's an obvious need for another reliable right-handed reliever and Mitchell has stood out head and shoulders above the rest of his Triple-A competition in the role.  He's always had the stuff for the job, now he's starting to show that he may have figured out the command and the finer points of pitching to be successful in the job.  If he's able to translate these early strong performances into regular season success, the Yankee bullpen could be scary good.

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Early Spring Training Winners And Losers

[caption id="attachment_80583" align="aligncenter" width="575"]CC ST 2016 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption] The Spring Training game schedule is almost 2 weeks old, the first round of roster cuts were made yesterday, and the ST process has taken a step from "getting loose and back into the swing of things" up to "starting to think about the regular season and what needs to be done to be ready for that".  With that in mind and with the Yankees off today, I thought it would be a perfect time to look at some of the big winners and losers so far in camp.  There's still another 3 weeks to go until final roster decisions and anything can happen in that time, but these are the guys who have done the most to help or hurt their standing through the first 13 games.

Winners:

Rob Refsnyder- No-brainer.  And it's not even about how well he's actually played.  Refsnyder is 4-16 with a double, a few walks, and 3 stolen bases in his 9 games, nothing special.  It's the fact that he's playing so much that's the telling sign, that and his early ability to hold his own at third base.  Joe is using Refsnyder in a variety of different scenarios at multiple positions and Refsnyder has responded well to it.  He's showing he's capable of handling this 2B/3B utility bench role and that's got to be going a long way for a club that doesn't have a lot of vital options for that role.

Austin Romine- Makes himself a more likely Opening Day backup to Big Mac with each game he plays.  His bat has been hot (5-14 with 3 doubles and 4 RBI in 7 games) and we already know that Romine is a more experienced and polished defensive catcher than Gary Sanchez.  Sanchez is still the future and he's drawing his share of positive reviews, but the Yankees are surely interested in pushing his FA timetable back and there has to be some value in Romine's 183 plate appearances of MLB experience to Sanchez's 2.  He's making the team's decision easier by showing something with the stick.  If he can do that for a little while when the games count, that's gravy.

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Quick Hit: Severino's Changing Approach?

In the recap this morning, I hinted at a potential change in Luis Severino's approach over his last few starts.  He's been much lower on strikeouts and higher on GB contact, and he made a comment about being more of a pitcher than a thrower before his last outing against Toronto in reference to that one bad outing earlier in the month.  It all adds up to a guy who's starting to realize the differences between what does and doesn't work when you go from Triple-A to the Majors and adjusting his approach accordingly. A quick look at the differences in pitch usage provide some supporting evidence to this theory.  Here's the breakdown of pitches over Severino's first 8 Major League starts, courtesy of Texas Leaguers (Brooks hasn't added their pitch data from yesterday's start):

Severino Pitch Breakdown 8-9-15

TL reads more cutters and 2-seamers than Brooks, but it's a real heavy dose of fastball-slider with a small side salad of changeups.  Compare that to his pitch usage in his last 2 starts:

Severino Pitch Breakdown Last 2 Starts 15

That's a little more balanced.  About 10% fewer fastballs, a few more sliders, and an over 7% increase in changeups.  That certainly fits the narrative of a pitcher who is becoming more mindful of navigating lineups multiple times and mixing things up to keep hitters honest and off-balance, and I could see the on-field results fitting in with this change in approach as well.  The changeup is the weakest of Severino's 3 pitches, but more of them mixed in and fewer fastballs to hit would explain the increase in weaker contact and could explain the decrease in strikeouts.  Severino's fastball is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch when he locates it well.

Of course, all of this could be nothing more than overreading a small sample size.  Part of what inspired me to look this up is the fact that Severino threw 6 shutout innings yesterday.  But let's be honest, he's probably not going to get 4 double plays in 1 start again this season, maybe never again in his career.  If one or 2 of those plays don't happen yesterday and the White Sox put a few more hits together and multiple runs on the board, suddenly Severino's performance and related potential changes aren't as big of a talking point.

What we know based on these numbers is that it appears as though he is starting to make some meaningful changes to how he pitches to Major League lineups and that's a good thing.  What we need to see is him sustain this approach and find a way to bring back that swing-and-miss strikeout ability that he showed over his first 8 starts.

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An Evolved Eovaldi

William has been knocking Nathan Eovaldi's evolution out of the park the last few weeks, but I'm going to steal his gimmick for a quick post illustrating just how much Eovaldi has changed with a small sample comparison.  You could argue that the last 2 starts have been Eovaldi's best of the season. They've certainly been the starts in which his stuff has looked the best and they're a far cry from what he showed in his first 2 starts.  How far?  See for yourself. Eovaldi Pitch Plot First 2 Starts

 

That's Eovaldi's pitch location plot for his first 2 starts of the season, 4/10 against the Red Sox and 4/15 against the Orioles.  The pitch selection breaks down to roughly 45% 4-seamers, 31% sliders, 15% curveballs, and a handful of changeups.  In those 2 starts, Eovaldi's line was 10.1 IP, 16 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 10 K.

 

Eovaldi Pitch Plot Last 2 Starts

 

That's the pitch plot from his last 2 starts.  It breaks down to about 46% 4-seamers, 32% splitters, 15% sliders, and a few curveballs.  Eovaldi's line in these 2 outings is 15 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 15 K.

Those results are pretty far apart and they're really representative of 2 completely different pitchers.  Eovaldi's gone from no splitters at all to the split being his most used offspeed pitch and primary out pitch.  The slider has essentially replaced the curveball as the "get me over" offspeed pitch, from 61% strikes in April to almost 70% over the last 2 starts, and you'll notice a much tighter concentration of slider locations in that second plot.

You'll also notice that Eovaldi has shifted his fastball location from a balanced, both sides of the plate approach to one that's decidedly more focused on working inside to righties and higher in the strike zone.  This is obviously to set up the splitter and the general distribution of those pitches very closely matches that of the 4-seamer.  After going into the season with no clear out pitch and no real plan of attack with his fastball other than "throw it hard", Eovaldi now has a clear strategy he's trying to employ and a better ability to execute that strategy.

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About Last Night: A Tale Of Two Severinos?

Lost in all of last night's late-inning festivities was an underratedly good second start by Luis Severino.  He looked very much the part of a 21-year-old making his second start in the early innings, but righted the ship and finished up with a 6-inning, 2-run no decision performance.  The outing was not as flashy as his debut in terms of results, but in showcasing Severino's ability to work through trouble and still provide length it may have been a better outing. The prevailing thought after the game was that Severino made some mid-game adjustments to fix things and that's how he was able to survive.  That was the narrative I was selling in my game recap, so I figured it was worth looking into a little more to see what those adjustments were.  Severino's 6 innings split up nicely into 2 equal 3-inning samples.  A comparison of the counting statistics shows a drastic difference in results from the first sample to the second.  Over the first 3 innings, Severino gave up 2 runs on 6 hits, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsman, and threw 60 pitches.  Over the final 3, he gave up no runs on 1 hit, no walks, and no hit batsmen on 37 pitches.  It goes without saying that a pitcher is going to throw more pitchers when he has to face more batters, but surely there had to be something he did differently that contributed to the turnaround, right?

[caption id="attachment_77625" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Severino Location Plot 1-3 Courtesy of Brooks Baseball[/caption]

There's his pitch location plot for the first 3 innings.  If the blues and blacks look too similar to you, that breaks down to 28 4-seam fastballs, 23 sliders, 8 changeups, and 1 cutter.  The first thing that jumps out to me here is how much Severino was missing to both sides of the plate with all of his pitches.  His changeup was all over the place, which wasn't forcing Cleveland hitters to respect it, and he missed up and in the middle of the strike zone with just many fastballs and sliders as he did way off the corners.

[caption id="attachment_77626" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Severino Location Plot 4-6 Courtesy of Brooks Baseball[/caption]

Now there's innings 4-6.  That's 19 fastballs, 15 sliders, and 3 changeups.  You'll notice that Severino really tightened up his command on the corners of the zone.  Only a handful of pitches missed way off the corner, which helped Severino get more strike calls and throw more strikes (59.4 strike % innings 4-6 compared to 58.3% in 1-3).  Severino also ditched the changeup in favor of a few more sliders, not a bad decision considering how poorly he located it in the first 3 innings.

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About Last Night: Luis Severino

While I realize last night's end result is not what we wanted or what the Yankees needed, there was one very positive thing to come out of the 2-1 loss to Red Sox: Luis Severino. What a performance by the kid. Watching him come out that poised and perform the way he did was pretty amazing. Unfortunately, he ended up on the losing end of the game because his offense was once again baffled by a knuckleballer and could only muster one run for the rookie.

So how did Severino's game breakdown? Get ready for a lot of pictures and colors!

Here's the spray chart (two hits and a costly error by Chase Headley):

export (62)

Here's a heat map of his strike percentage:

trumedia_baseball_heatmap(severino)

Here's his pitch chart (where they landed and what type they were) according to Baseball Savant: Luis  Severino

Here's how the velocity looked in graph form courtesy of Brooks Baseball (Nice mix of speeds): severinospeedpitch85

Here's how his 94 pitches broke down according to Baseball Savant:

chart (7)

FOUR SEAMER: chart (4)

TWO SEAMER: chart (5)

CHANGE: chart (3)

SLIDER: chart (2)

CUTTER: chart (6)

Severino made one big mistake and it unfortunately came off the bat of David Ortiz in the form of a solo shot:

trumedia_baseball_heatmap(OrtizHR)

Someone like Ortiz will turn on a ball like this even if it is 96 mph, but the kid showed poise on the mound, kept Boston at two runs and didn't let things get out of hand.

His final line: five innings, two hits, two runs, one earned (Thanks again Headley), no walks, seven strikeouts and the home run.

Fun fact: Severino's the first pitcher in American League history with two hits or fewer, no walks and at least seven strikeouts in his MLB debut. Not too shabby, kid.

[Stats, charts and graphs courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant]

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Quick Hit: The Return Of Nova's Sinker, For One Day At Least

Just wanted to touch on an observation I had during yesterday's game.  I don't know how much we can take from one start, but it's worth noting that Ivan Nova's sinker looked really good yesterday.  He's struggled to command the pitch since coming back, and that lack of command has contributed to his hittability and low strikeout/swing-and-miss rates.  Not yesterday.  Here's where Nova's 43 sinkers were located: Nova Sinker Plot 8-2-15

Of those 43 sinkers, Nova threw 26 of them for strikes.  He drew swings on 20 of them and swings and misses on 5.  3 of those 5 whiffs came on strikeouts, which might be the best part about Nova's outing yesterday.  He struck out 7 batters overall, 6 of them swinging, and got the 6 swinging Ks on 3 sinkers and 3 curveballs.  That's the type of stuff we're used to seeing from Nova when he's on his game.

Compare yesterday's results to the 202 sinkers Nova threw over his first 6 starts:

Nova Sinker Plot 6-7-15

The overall location distribution looks very similar, and it is.  But the big difference is that group of pitches located in the right half of the strike zone.  You'll notice that there isn't a single pitch that crossed anywhere in or near the right side of the zone and beyond yesterday.  Nova was locating his sinker to one side of the plate all day yesterday, like he wanted to, and he was able to use the pitch more effectively as a result.  He could throw the pitch inside early in a count to move a batter's feet and better set up the 2-strike sinker out of the zone or the curveball down and away.  Because he kept pounding that side of the plate, the hitters had to honor it and change their approach in response.

Again, it was just one outing, so no way to draw any major conclusions from this.  But it was a good thing to see after the arm fatigue scare earlier in the week.  Life is much easier as a pitcher when you can locate where you want to and execute your game plan.  Nova was able to do that yesterday and his results speak to how effective his execution was.  If he can keep this up and keep pounding his sinker down and in to righties/down and away to lefties, Nova could become a big help to the rotation.

(Images and stats via Texas Leaguers)

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