Jacoby Ellsbury’s return to Fenway Park wasn’t exactly a hero’s reception. Although the Red Sox properly honored their former centerfielder with a video montage before the game, the fans weren’t as generous. Most favored status in Red Sox Nation can be fleeting, especially when you return in the road grays of New York, but the lack of appreciation for a player who had been so instrumental in Boston’s recent success seemed a little ungrateful.

Who knows, maybe the Fenway faithful simply forgot about all the great things Ellsbury did for their team. If so, it didn’t take long for the speedy lefty to offer a few reminders. Before some in the crowd even had a chance to take their seats at the old ballpark, Ellsbury had already tripled to lead off the game and then robbed Grady Sizemore of an extra base hit with a sliding catch in center. It was just like old times, except now the Yankees were the team having all the fun.

Ellsbury isn’t the first home grown Red Sox All Star to return to Fenway wearing a different uniform. Over the years, Boston has regularly bid a premature farewell to some of their biggest stars, but the centerfielder’s return certainly ranks among the most triumphant, at least from a performance standpoint. From a fan perspective, Ellsbury’s Fenway reunion was underwhelming compared to other recent Red Sox refugees. Listed below are the results of some prominent Fenway returns along with the crowd reaction to each player.

Fenway Park Reunions

Player Team Date Results
Babe Ruth Yankees 4/19/1920 2-4, 2B
Carlton Fisk White Sox 4/10/1981 2-4, HR, 1R, 3 RBI
Fred Lynn Angels 8/31/1981 0-4
Wade Boggs Yankees 5/21/1993 4-4, BB
Roger Clemens Blue Jays 7/12/1997 8IP, 4H, 1R, 16K, W
Mo Vaughn Angels 5/7/1999 0-4
Nomar Garciaparra Athletics 7/6/2009 2-4, RBI
Kevin Youkilis White Sox 7/16/2012 3-4, 1R, 2 2B
Jonathan Papelbon Phillies 5/28/2013 1IP, 1K, Save
Jacoby Ellsbury Yankees 4/22/2014 2-5, 2R, 2RBI, 2B, 3B

Note: Includes select home grown players who left the Red Sox in close proximity to their prime years.
Source: baseball-reference.com
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Ivan Nova left yesterday's start with elbow discomfort that diagnosed as a UCL tear. (Photo: AP/Mike Carlson)

Ivan Nova left yesterday’s start with elbow discomfort that was diagnosed as a UCL tear. (Photo: AP/Mike Carlson)

Ivan Nova left yesterday’s game with a bruised ego and a sore elbow. This morning, his main affliction is undoubtedly a crushed spirit. An MRI on Nova’s tender elbow revealed the same devastating diagnosis that has haunted over a dozen pitchers this season alone: a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.

The waiting list for Tommy John surgery has been a long one in 2014, but Nova didn’t figure to be joining it. At age 27, Nova is entering his prime, but, despite being a professional pitcher for nine seasons, his workload has been relatively light. Including the minors, majors, and postseason, the right hander has neither topped 200 innings nor experienced a precipitous increase from one year to the next. Based on his time on the mound and years in the big leagues, Nova had seemingly navigated the injury mine fields of being a pitcher, but now, he counts himself as one of its many victims.

Ivan Nova’s Innings Progression, 2006-2013
Note: Includes minor league and major leagues as well as post season in 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although Nova doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a potential Tommy John patient, he hasn’t had a clean bill of health. In 2011, he suffered from a forearm strain (often the precursor to an elbow injury) during the ALDS, and then, in each of the next two seasons, landed on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation and soreness in his triceps, respectively. The most significant red flag, however, might have been his diminished velocity this season. Whereas Nova’s fastball averaged 93.2 mph (93.0 mph in his first four April starts) last year, according to fangraphs.com, this year’s reading was only 91.8 mph. Velocity has become a preoccupation in baseball circles, and there has been a reactionary tendency by some to dismiss the obsession. However, with anecdotal evidence suggesting a link between a decline in velocity and a pending injury, it might be time to take this data more seriously. Continue Reading »

Yangervis Solarte has been flying high in his major league debut, but for how long can the Yankees enjoy the ride?

Yangervis Solarte has been flying high in his major league debut, but for how long can the Yankees enjoy the ride?

The Yankees’ biggest challenge this offseason was replacing the lost production of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and second baseman Robison Cano. Compensating for both losses figured to take a team effort, but over the first three weeks of the season, one man, Yangervis Solarte, has provided all the answers.

Solarte, a career minor leaguer who spent eight years toiling in the Twins’ and Rangers’ farm systems, forced his way onto the Yankees’ roster by hitting .429/.489/.571 during the exhibition season. March flashes in the pan are an annual rite of spring, but fools good usually makes itself known by the end of April. So far, however, Solarte has shown no signs of tarnish. In 62 plate appearances, the 26-year old rookie has nearly matched his spring performance, compiling a line of .370/.452/.556 while playing competent defense at both second and third. More than just impressive for a journeyman rookie finally getting his shot at the big leagues, Solarte’s fast start would even make perennial All Stars like Rodriguez and Cano blush.

With the loss of Mark Teixeira depleting what already was a woefully undermanned Yankees’ infield, the emergence of Solarte has been a godsend. No matter what happens over the rest of the season, the Bronx Bombers have extracted three weeks of MVP-caliber performance from a player who was not forecast to have a meaningful role on the 2014 team. But, what about the rest of the season? Solarte shouldn’t be expected to continue his current torrid pace, but can the Yankees count on him to remain a viable option on the infield?

Successful Major League Debuts at Age-26 or older, 1970-2013
Note: Players with an OPS+ of at least 100 in a minimum of 400 plate appearances. White shading represents players with international experience in Japan or Cuba.
Source: baseball- reference.com
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In yesterday’s double header against the Cubs, the Yankees allowed no runs and nine hits while recording 17 strikeouts in 18 innings. It was the first time since 1987 that the Yankees swept a doubleheader without allowing a run, but the most impressive statistic wasn’t listed in the box score. It was the age of the Yankees’ two starting pitchers.

Yankees’ Recent Double Header Shutouts
DH Shutouts
Source: New York Times archive (pre 1917) and Baseball-reference.com (post 1917)

Twenty-five year old Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda were responsible for 14 shutout innings in yesterday’s twin bill, an effort that lowered their respective ERAs to 2.05 and 1.00. Although it would be foolish to predict similar success over the rest of the season based on only three starts, the Yankees nonetheless have every reason to be optimistic. And, those positive feelings could extend well beyond the 2014 season.

The Yankees have always been an older team, but last year, they were particularly long in the tooth, especially in the starting rotation, which had a weighted average age of 32.5 years. Entering the off season, the team’s starting staff was a major concern, especially because the league-wide trend of locking up young players to long-term deals had left the free agent market devoid of aces. However, thanks to the addition of Tanaka, recovery of Pineda, and continued progress of Ivan Nova, the long-term outlook for the Yankees’ starting staff is now much brighter. With a trio of twenty-somethings in their midst, the Yankees are now looking at a starting rotation that is not only capable of helping the team win now, but, if health abides, could become part of a new long-term core. Continue Reading »

For the second straight season, there will be a lot of turnover in the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup. With the departure of Robinson Cano, who had started eight straight openers at second base, only two holdovers remain. Brett Gardner is making his sixth consecutive start in the outfield, but will shift back to left fielder after spending all of last year in center. CC Sabathia is also making his sixth straight Opening Day start, which ties Lefty Gomez’ club record and brings him within one of the seven total pitched by Mel StottlemyreRon Guidry and Whitey Ford. However, in spite of Sabathia’s long tenure, the big lefty is still without a victory on Opening Day.

od_white_2014Although he wasn’t in last year’s Opening Day lineup, Derek Jeter‘s face will be the most familiar one on the field. The Yankees’ short stop will be making his 17th and final start for the Bronx Bombers, meaning the Captain will fall one short of tying Mickey Mantle‘s franchise record. Jeter will also fall one short of tying Omar Vizquel and Luis Aparicio for most Opening Day starts at short stop, but he will own the distinction of having played the most Opening Days at any one position for the Yankees. Should he play the entire game, Jeter will also set the franchise record for most plate appearances on Opening Day, and with four hits, he would join Mantle atop the leader board in that category as well.

Listed below is an assortment of team and player Opening Day facts and figures. Continue Reading »

Are additions like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury , and Carlos Beltran enough to return the Yankees to the top of the AL East? (Photo: AP)

Are additions like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran enough to return the Yankees to the top of the AL East? (Photo: AP)

The Yankees have a much better team this year. There’s no question about it. What isn’t as clear, however, is the degree to which they needed to improve the team and whether they’ve done enough to return to the postseason.

It’s hard to predict how good the Yankees can be in 2014 without revisiting just how bad they were last year. Although the injury riddled Bronx Bombers won 85 games, a more careful inspection reveals a paper tiger. Based on run differential, the Yankees were really a 79-win team, representing the franchise’s lowest Pythagorean record since 1992. The team’s offense also ranked as one of the worst in franchise history, while two starters, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, had similarly awful seasons. A few cosmetic changes weren’t going to fix the Yankees this offseason. In order to restore the pinstripes to among the A.L.’s elite, Brian Cashman needed to perform an overhaul. Now, the question remains, did he do enough?

Yankees’ Historical Run Differential/Game, 1901-2013

Source: baseball-reference.com

Although the Yankees made several significant additions, the subtractions were just as noteworthy. The combined losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte meant about 13 wins were siphoned off the team, according to Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR. So, the real starting point for rebuilding the 2014 Yankees was the approximately 66 win team that was left behind. Continue Reading »

2014 Predictions


Playoff Scenarios

Brewers beat Braves in Wild Card game.
Red Sox beat Royals in Wild Card game.

Nationals beat Dodgers in NLDS.
Cardinals beat Brewers in NLDS.
Tigers beat Red Sox in ALDS
Yankees beat Angels in ALDS

Nationals beat Cardinals in NLCS.
Tigers beat Yankees in ALCS.

Nationals beat Tigers in World Series

Regular Season Awards

NL Cy Young: José Fernández
NL MVP:  Carlos Gomez
NL ROY: Travis d’Arnaud

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL MVP:  Mike Trout
AL ROY: Masahiro Tanaka

Not satisfied with my picks? Check out the latest odds to see how they stack up.

Three Bold Predictions

1. The Phillies will hold a fire sale at the trade deadline. Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will be among the players traded to contending teams.

2.  Before the end of the first half, Yasiel Puig will be demoted to the minor leagues, and, after a failed trade attempt, return to the majors to help lead the Dodgers to the NL West title.

3. Masahiro Tanaka will strikeout 18 batters in one game, tying the Yankees’ single season strikeout mark held by Ron Guidry.

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