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The Bronx Bombers are back, but only at Yankee Stadium. Most teams hit better at home, but this year, the Yankees have taken their splits to the extreme. Not only do they have one of the largest home/road disparities in the league, in terms of both OPS and runs scored per game, but the current gap is easily the largest in franchise history. The Yankees have always been tailored to take advantage of the short porch at the Stadium, but never before has the offense performed so much better wearing pinstripes instead of road grays.

MLB Home vs. Road Splits: OPS and R/G, 2015
mlb 2015 splits
Note: Positive figures represent better performance at home. Data as of June 24, 2015.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Yankees Historical Home vs. Road Splits: OPS and R/G, 1914-2015
Yankees Split
Note: Positive figures represent better performance at home. Data for 2015 as of June 24, 2015.
Source: baseball-reference.com
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The only thing more difficult than watching CC Sabathia pitch these days is seeing the pained expression on his face when he addresses the media after each game. Yankee fans have grown so accustomed to the big lefty being in command, both on the field and off, so the sight of Sabathia slumping on the mound, and then again by his locker, has been somewhat disconcerting.

For the most part, Sabathia’s struggles have been handled well by Yankee fans, at least those with a long memory. Sure, there was a smattering of boos when the lefty walked off the mound after last night’s clunker, but for the most part, the reaction has been polite applause. Sabathia’s earned that level of patience and respect from the fans. But, should the organization be as abiding?

You can’t exaggerate how poorly CC Sabathia has pitched this season. The left hander has posted an ERA+ of 70 in his 15 starts, which puts him on pace for one of worst seasons by a Yankees’ pitcher. And yet, the Yankees seemingly have no plans to remove him from the rotation. After last night’s game, Joe Girardi was peppered with questions about Sabathia’s status in the rotation. Ever loyal (or is it stubborn?), the Yankees’ manager never waivered. “He’s a starter for us. That’s what he is,” Girardi told the throng. But, for how much longer?

Worst ERA+ by a Yankees Pitcher, 1901-2015

Player Age ERA+ IP Year GS ERA
Bill Stafford 23 59 89.2 1963 14 6.02
Ray Fisher 24 62 90.1 1912 13 5.88
Jack Quinn 28 63 102.2 1912 11 5.79
Tim Leary 32 64 120.2 1991 18 6.49
Russ Van Atta 28 65 88 1934 9 6.34
Bill Monbouquette 31 65 89.1 1968 11 4.43
Wade Taylor 25 66 116.1 1991 22 6.27
Danny MacFayden 28 67 90.1 1933 6 5.88
Ambrose Puttmann 24 69 86.1 1905 9 4.27
Rollie Sheldon 25 69 118 1962 16 5.49
Dave LaPoint 29 69 113.2 1989 20 5.62
Jeff Johnson 24 70 127 1991 23 5.95
David Cone 37 70 155 2000 29 6.91
CC Sabathia 34 70 87.2 2015 15 5.65
Atley Donald 32 70 119.1 1943 15 4.60

Note: Minimum 85 innings.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Last year, the Yankees had one of the worst offenses in baseball. This year, the Bronx Bombers’ bats rank among the best. How has the team’s lineup improved so significantly without making a big offseason acquisition? There but for the grace of “bad contracts” go the Yankees.

The Yankees’ offense has been revived because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez have both resurrected their careers. The two sluggers currently have the second most home runs among any pair of teammates, and rank among the top-10 in the American League in terms of OPS+ (and within the top-12 in wRC+). As a result, the Yankees’ offense has improved by nearly three-quarters of a run per game compared to last year.

Dynamic Duos: Top Home Run Hitting Teammates
Dynamic Duos
Source: fangraphs.com

According to the recent narrative, Arod and Teixeira were supposed to be part of the problem with the Yankees offense, not the solution. Because of their onerous contracts and declining play, the two aged sluggers had supposedly become an insurmountable burden that the cost conscious Yankees couldn’t overcome. That’s why if many Yankee fans (and team executives) had gotten their way, Teixeira and Arod wouldn’t even be on the team this year, let alone at the forefront of an offensive resurgence. And yet, despite all the criticism, the two All Stars continue to pound the baseball…and earn their substantial salaries.

Over the previous two seasons, Arod and Teixeira played 182 games combined, so it’s easy to understand why most people had muted expectations for the duo. It’s also clear to see why so many view the pair as grossly overpaid. However, even before this year’s hot start, that characterization was unfair. Although the two sluggers had suffered an obvious decline with age and injury, their cumulative performance, combined with reasonable assumptions about post season contributions and economic impact, suggested that the Yankees had at least gotten their money’s worth from the two mega-dollar contracts, especially when considered in light of the financial structure of the game (click here for an analysis of Robinson Cano’s contract presented in this context). Continue Reading »

Those who ignore history are denied the opportunity to repeat it. With apologies to George Santayana, that’s something Brian Cashman should keep in mind as the Yankees’ offense continues to struggle.

Is a new Robbie headed to the Bronx? (Photo: AP)

Is a new Robbie headed to the Bronx? (Photo: AP)

Ten years ago, in May 2005, the Yankees hit a rough stretch that saw the team fall five games under .500 early in the month. There were lots of reasons for the team’s slow start, but Tony Womack, a middle infielder imported from the National League, was one of the chief offenders. Womack’s shaky defense and anemic bat made him an immediate target of fan derision, and forced the Yankees to consider quickly abandoning their offseason blueprint. Meanwhile, down in the minors, a young second baseman by the name of Robinson Cano was hitting up a storm. A second base convert, Cano was often overlooked during the early part of his professional career. In fact, the Yankees seemingly did everything possible to trade him away, but scouts from around the league were never that impressed. Still, his performance at Columbus was starting to speak for itself, and the message was heard loud and clear in New York. On May 3, 2005, Cano made his major league debut at second base, displacing the veteran Womack to left field (and eventually the bench). The rest, as they say, is history…the same history the 2015 Yankees would love to repeat.

It definitely hit home in our clubhouse. There’s a sense of urgency right now. Every game is very important. It always is, but more so now, when the team is struggling a little bit.” – Alex Rodriguez, speaking about Cano’s promotion, quoted in the New York Times, May 4, 2005

It would be unfair to put all of the blame for the Yankees’ recent losing streak on Didi Gregorius, but an OPS+ of 50 makes for an easy target. The same can be said for Stephen Drew, whose bat has been almost as dormant. Having two gold gloves up the middle was part of the Yankees’ master plan, but with the offense struggling, and Drew and Gregorius seemingly giving away outs at the bottom of the lineup, a reassessment might be in order. If only the organization had a young second baseman banging on the door in the minors.

History Repeating Itself?
REFSNYDER

Source: baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

Nathan Eovaldi throws hard and works cheap. He just isn’t very good at getting hitters out. Since 2011, the 25-year old right hander has ranked among the “leaders” in both baserunners and hard hit balls allowed, but, that didn’t stop the Yankees from making him a key part of their offseason blueprint. Who needs outs when you can throw 97 mph and only make $3 million?

Highest WHIP and Hard Hit Rate Among MLB Pitchers (min. 500 IP), 2011 – Present
eovaldi perform
Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com

The Yankees didn’t trade for Eovaldi with blinders on. When the righty was acquired from the Marlins, GM Brian Cashman described him as a project who wasn’t “a finished product”. Joe Girardi has also referred to the right hander as a work in progress who “was learning on the job”. Although some fans, perhaps seduced by velocity, may have expected Eovaldi to be consistent and effective from the get go, the Yankees clearly set the bar much lower.

Given our current payroll and our current commitments, if we can find guys that have this type of ability and are cost-controlled and are in the arena that we can afford, it’s an easier fit.” – Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, quoted by MLB.com regarding the Eovaldi trade

Eovaldi is an experiment, and it would be unfair to expect a sudden breakout after only a few months in pinstripes. However, a little bit of progress isn’t too much to ask, and, so far at least, the right hander hasn’t exhibited any. On the contrary, Eovaldi’s peripherals have regressed. In eight starts, he has allowed more hits, home runs and walks per nine innings than his lackluster career totals entering the season. If the Yankees are making any progress with their pet project, it hasn’t been evident on the field.

Nathan Eovaldi: Before and After
EOVALDI BA
Source: baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

The Yankees are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. For only the 17th time since 1901, the Bronx Bombers have one win or less in the season’s first five games, a period over which the team has also compiled its 11th worst run differential. Does the slow start seal the Yankees’ fate? Not according to history.

In the 16 previous seasons that began 0-5 or 1-4, the Yankees rebounded to win at least 55% of all games in seven. Included among those are two championships seasons, 1978 and 1998, the latter being arguably the best in franchise history. The first five games of 2015 may have been ugly, but the Yankees have proven in the past that they can dust themselves off after an early stumble.

Slow Start Snapshot: How Yankees Have Fared When Stumbling in the First Five Games
Worst Starts Five Games
Source: proprietary database populated with information from baseball-reference.com

Although Yankee fans shouldn’t panic over five games, a longer-term view of the team’s struggles might be cause for concern. As noted above, the Bronx Bombers have been outscored by 12 runs, and at no point have they enjoyed a positive run differential. In fact, the last time the Yankees had cumulatively scored more runs than their opponents was April 18 of last year, a streak of 145 games.

Yankees’ Cumulative Run Differential Streaks, 1901 to 2015
Run Differential Streaks
Note: Represents consecutive days with a run differential that is either positive (greater than zero on y axis) or 0/negative (less than zero on y-axis).
Source: proprietary database populated with information from baseball-reference.com
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The Yankees and their fans should be worried about Masahiro Tanaka’s velocity, but not for the reasons many have espoused. A small drop on the radar gun hardly warrants a panic, especially so early in the season, but ignoring the readings is equally naïve. After all, while the decline may not be a manifestation of ill health, it does seem to be the result of Tanaka’s attempt to avoid further injury.

Concern about Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t warrant the exaggerated conclusions (or worse, prescriptions of surgery from the press box) reached after yesterday’s poor outing. However, these overreactions have elicited an equal and opposite over-simplified response. In an attempt to deflect the worries, some have argued that Tanaka’s drop in velocity isn’t a product of poor health, but a change in pitching style. By shifting from a four-seam fastball to a two-seamer, the argument goes, Tanaka’s radar readings must necessarily decline. That’s true on the surface, but it belies a larger question. Why is Tanaka trying to change an approach that has worked so well in the past?

I think, yes, because of the fact I’m throwing more two-seamers, that could make the velocity go down a bit. As far as my pitching style and my mechanics, I’m trying to relax a little bit more when I’m throwing, so that might have to do with it a little bit.”Masahiro Tanaka, quoted by the New York Daily News, April 4, 2015

Perhaps Tanaka’s decisions to “relax more” in his delivery and throw a sinker are calculated to enhance his effectiveness. If so, then the Yankees shouldn’t have any concern about their ace. As long as he is physically capable of reverting to the form that made him so coveted, there’s no harm in a little experimentation. But, if Tanaka is making these changes as a concession to his injury, the questions about his health not only become legitimized, but they extend to his expected performance as well. Continue Reading »

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