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?

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
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
Continue Reading »

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 »

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