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 »

The Yankees can win the A.L. East, but, in order to do so, just about every question has to be answered affirmatively. And, the Yankees have plenty. Until recently, the Bronx Bombers’ offseason strategy was to eliminate doubts by wielding its financial strength like a bludgeon on the free agent market. Nowadays, there is a much a greater tolerance for uncertainty, and, as a result, the Yankees enter the 2015 season with a range of possible outcomes that runs the gamut from a last place finish to winning the A.L. East crown. All are possible, but what is likely (click here for 2015 predictions for all teams)?

The Yankees won 84 games in 2014, but, based on run differential, they played more like a 77-win team. If you split the difference, that makes last year’s Bronx Bombers about breakeven. Considering Brian Cashman did not make any major upgrades, it’s fair to begin an assessment of this season at that level. Of course, last year left plenty of room of improvement. Infield defense is one area where the Yankees will be much better. With Chase Headley returning for a full season and Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew joining him up the middle, the Yankees infield promises to be one of the best in the game when it comes to catching the ball. In addition, the Bronx Bombers can reasonably expect Brian McCann to perform closer to his career norm. Otherwise, the Yankees’ fate is very precarious. If the same team that struggled so much last year can prove triumphant in 2015, it will not only need to reap the reward of the reasonable, but also the benefit from the unexpected. Continue Reading »


American League East

Despite a questionable starting rotation and injury concerns in the bullpen, the Red Sox clearly have the strongest and deepest offense in the A.L. East, and, in today’s low run scoring era, that gives Boston a distinct advantage. The Red Sox are also buoyed by a strong farm system that boasts several prospects who could either supplement the major league roster or be used to acquire a veteran in a trade (Cole Hamels anyone?). If everything goes right, Boston could win 90-95 games, but because of their pitching questions, they may have to set their sites just below that bar. Still, 89 wins should still be good enough to pace a division full of flawed teams.

The Orioles won 96 games last year, but the departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz should put a major dent in their offense. It’s also hard to imagine Steve Pearce replicating his 2014 performance, and JJ Hardy and Matt Wieters are starting the year on the disabled list. Overall pitching depth and the wisdom of Buck Showalter should be enough to keep Baltimore in contention, and a favorite to win a wild card, but their position is much more precarious this season. The Blue Jays upgraded their offense with two big additions. Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin bolstered an already potent Toronto lineup, but with the preseason injury to Marcus Stroman, the team’s pitching staff could prove too thin for a postseason bid. The Yankees could make a run at the division title, but they could just as easily finish in last place. A more likely scenario for the Bronx Bombers is somewhere down the middle, which would mean a third straight season watching from home in October. Continue Reading »

The business of baseball is booming. In stark contrast to trite reports about the game’s demise that have been common for over a century, Forbes’ annual look at the financial health of major league baseball once again revealed a thriving enterprise with no signs of slowing down.

According to Forbes’ 2015 survey, which is based on estimates for 2014, baseball franchises cumulatively increased in value by over $11 billion dollars, or nearly 50%. Even coming off a trough, such exponential growth would be impressive, but, following three years of almost double-digit gains, it is truly remarkable. At the heart of the game’s surging valuation is the steadily increasing revenue streams derived from cable TV and internet sources. In addition to robust rights fees being realized across the board, which Forbes estimates now account for nearly 40% of industry revenue, the sport is also uniquely positioned to profit from the proliferation of content streaming. Thanks to the strong business model of its MLB Advanced Media subsidiary, baseball is potentially sitting on a goldmine that some believe could one day rival the combined value of the 30 franchises.

MLB Financial Snapshot, 2003-2014
Note: Revenue for each team is net of stadium debt and revenue sharing.
Source: Forbes.com

Not only did MLB enjoy a spike in “paper profits”, but the sport’s top and bottom line also received a jolt. Net revenue, which excludes exempt stadium debt and revenue sharing payments (so there is no double counting), increased over 10%, while EBITDA, which Forbes uses as a proxy for operating profit, more than doubled. With total payroll costs increasing only 8.5% year-over-year, the sport’s 30 franchises continue to enjoy an increasing percentage of the financial pie. Continue Reading »

Chris Borland’s decision to turn his back on a multi-million dollar career as a hard hitting linebacker may have sent shockwaves throughout the NFL, but the implications could be just as significant for major league baseball.

If Borland’s early retirement was the headline of yesterday’s sports news, MLB appointing Tony Reagins to the newly created position of senior vice president for youth programs was a footnote. And, that’s being generous. However, there is a strong link between the two stories…one that Reagins would be wise to exploit in his new job.

According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, one of Reagins’ mandates will be to increase youth participation in amateur baseball, whether it be on the local, high school or college level. Presumably, Reagins will be responsible for coordinating the operational and financial support of youth-based initiatives across the country, but the most important message he and MLB could send to young athletes is one Borland may have benefited from when he was a kid: baseball doesn’t ask its athletes to choose between a successful career and a healthy life.

Injuries are a part of every sport, but the relative risk faced by football players is much greater, especially when you consider the shorter playing careers and lack of guaranteed contracts faced by those who toil on the grid iron. Granted, baseball does not provide immediate fame on the NCAA level, and spending several years in the minor leagues lacks instant gratification, but for those athletes who persevere, the rewards are much greater and, more importantly, the risks are much less. That’s the message Reagins should hammer home every chance he gets. Providing more opportunities for America’s youth to play baseball should be paramount, but once they are involved, a little evangelization could go a long way.

Chris Borland’s retirement is the NFL’s loss today, but at some point in the future, it could be MLB’s gain. Who knows whether Borland is a trailblazer or an anomaly, but if other top athletes decide to follow in his footsteps, MLB should be eager to provide them with an alternate path. Baseball’s overriding goal should be to attract as many great athletes as possible into the fold, and if that mean’s exploiting the inherent dangers of other sports, so be it. Doing so would certainly be good for baseball, but it would be even better for the health of the young athletes who make the transition.

(This updated post was originally published on February 16, 2011)

For 19 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively harken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the inequities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ball clubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901

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