Do the Yankees have a run in them?

This has been a frustrating Yankee season, to say the least. The combination of injuries and austerity has sucked some of the fun out of following my favorite team. Losing is part of the game. But it isn't exactly engaging to know that your team is losing because of a poor combination of frailty and management stinginess. That's why these past few weeks have been such a breath of fresh air. Suddenly Yankee fans are getting a taste of the team they could have had. Hate him or really hate him, Alex Rodriguez can still hit, certainly better than guys the Yankees had been putting at third before him (Al's wRC+ is 114 this year). Alfonso Soriano is currently making Cubs fans wish they'd put some protection around him in the batting order. Curtis Granderson has come back to give the Bombers a .375 wOBA. And it should come as no surprise that at the same time that the Yankee lineup got so much deeper Robinson Cano has started hitting again, improving his season long numbers to .297/.382/.493 (far worse than what he's done in years before, but still). And that's before Derek Jeter gets back. Suddenly, the Yankees have a lineup.

The Yankee pitching has been middle of the pack this year, but is the combination of decent pitching with renewed hitting enough for the Yankees to make a run at a Wild Card slot? As of this writing there are exactly 40 games left in the Yankee season. The Pinstripes sit six games out of a Wild Card slot, behind the Athletics (and a host of other teams). Based on that, the odds look steep. Stranger things have happened, but the Yankees would have to become one of the hottest teams in baseball and would still need a bit of luck to pull it off.

But, it's an enticing prospect. The collective media freak out alone would be worth it. Were it to happen I can only hope that A-Rod would make a solid contribution down the stretch. Speaking from a purely baseball perspective it would breathe some much needed life to a moribund season. It's a long shot, practically an impossibility, but with pop back in the lineup it's something to think about.

The Grandy Man Returneth

Curtis Granderson - Candy Man

After the Yankees made a roster move to add a pitcher for yesterday's second doubleheader game, speculation started almost immediately about what it meant.  Brett Marshall was added as extra bullpen insurance, insurance that wasn't needed, but Brennan Boesch getting sent down to clear a spot was the real story because it could mean only one thing.  Curtis Granderson was ready to come back.

Joe hinted at it in his postgame presser, Donnie Collins added fuel to the fire with his report, and Granderson himself all but confirmed it last night on Twitter.  He's on his way to New York to meet up with the team today, and with Corban Joseph having to go back down to Triple-A immediately after yesterday's game the expectation is that C-Grand will be activated off the DL to fill that roster spot and will be in the starting lineup for tonight's game.

If that's the plan tonight, then it couldn't be happening at a better time.  The Yanks have just completed a successful but taxing road trip, their bench is painfully short, and the lineup as a whole is starting to show a little bit of that "all or nothing"-ness that was expected before the season.  The return of C-Grand to the lineup and the locker room should serve as the little shot in the arm this group probably needs right now to keep their momentum going and as the first reminder to everybody that the cavalry is still coming.

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Why It's Hard To Question The Decision To Leave Granderson In Center Field

According to most defensive metrics, Curtis Granderson had an awful 2012. Even the eye test told a tale of a center fielder misplaced on a team filled with more adept outfielders. The collective online Yankee community is in agreement that sending Granderson to left field, and giving him less area to cover, will help stop his defensive regression. The Yankees don't agree. AP Photo/Duane Burleson

When a player is visually struggling, you usually go to the stats to see how long and how poorly they've played. When a player suddenly puts up awful numbers, you usually go to the video to see why the numbers are degrading. This generation of baseball enthusiasts is lucky enough to have the numbers, analysis, and video available instantaneously on the internet, and it allows us to judge team's decisions in a more scientific and thorough way than ever before. But when it comes to defense, the amount of data and the way we analyze it is still in its infancy.

To give you an idea of the reliability of today's defensive statistics, Curtis Granderson's 2012 -18.2 UZR/150 was the worst in all of baseball, while his RZR ranked well above average at 10th overall, placing him between BJ Upton and Andres Torres. You can also trace this yearly, and see that his UZR/150 has fluctuated from 7.9 in 2010 (the fourth best center fielder), to -5.3 in 2011 (12th ranked center fielder), to finally the worst ranked center fielder last season. This isn't the first time UZR/150 has had mixed feelings, in 2006 and 2007, Granderson put up a 13.6 and 14.6 UZR/150, followed by a 2008 that dropped to -11.9.

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Briefly discussing the internal options to replace Curtis Granderson

With Curtis Granderson down and out for ten weeks or so, the Yankees have a hole in left field. No injury can have an upside though there can be silver linings. "Luckily," a lot of Granderson's rehab time will be taken up by Spring Training and he'll be back in early May. But on that not-so-lucky side, since it's Spring Training, the market for outfielders is pretty thin and obviously, the timing isn't great. There are, however, some internal options. Though it should be obvious, let's just cross of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. Ramon Flores, who's on the 40-man roster and whose star seems to be rising, should be discounted because of the fact that he's so young (he'll turn 21 next month). That leaves us with Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa. For brief rundowns of those two, check out this post from Yanks Go Yard.

To add to it, the Yankees have expressed excitement about Almonte. That article, in which Brian Cashman says he wouldn't want to use a young guy as a bench outfielder, was written before Curtis Granderson's injury. With Granderson out, though, there's a starting spot open. What could give Almonte an edge is that he is a switch hitter. What's more, Almonte seems to be a better hitter as a lefty batter. In 2012, Almonte crushed righties to the tune of .303/.349/.542 with 17 homers. For his career, Almonte has a line of .286/.345/.497/.842 against righties. His career line of .268/.323/.440/.763 against lefties isn't terrible, but the line against righties is more encouraging and hints that he could handle the heavy side of a platoon.

On the other hand, there's Melky Mesa. Mesa, who just turned 26 in January, has a ton of minor league experience and finally got a crack at the Majors last year. He's a speedy and powerful right handed hitter who also has a bit of a hole in his swing. As a righty, we'd expect him to fill the light side of a platoon if he were on the big league team, but for his career, Mesa actually has a reverse platoon split: His OPS vs. LHP is .642 and his OPS vs. RHP is .808. And with his power/speed combo--and reportedly good defense--he could be the most logical replacement for Granderson since he offers some of the same tools.

If the Yankees go internal by using their minor leaguers as a Granderson replacement, they'll need to make sure that the player they pick gets a lot of playing time, especially if it's Almonte. As Cashman said, it's not good for the player or the team if a young guy sits on the bench. If I had a choice, I'd go with Almonte. But if I know the Yankees, I think they'll go with Mesa's tools and experience before going to Zoilo.

Time To Trade For An Outfielder

There's a lot to say about this year's offseason, but most of it is far from positive. The Yankee front office typically aims for a 95 to 100 win team, but this year it looks like they may barely get to 90. Will it be enough? We won't know until the season is over, but no AL East team looks exceptionally good. Even with the current roster, most reports have the Blue Jays or the Yankees as favorites.

The Yankees usually go above and beyond to put together a team that'll leave the rest of the division far behind them, but they'll lose $20+ million in payroll in 2014, and they have filled a lineup with one year deals and minor league gambles in preparation.  To replace Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Wilson, Shawn Kelley, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz. Needless to say, the front office has brought in some disappointing replacements.

Now with Curtis Granderson out for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees have no major league third outfielder on their 40 man roster. The three outfielders outside of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ramon Flores. Of these three, only Mesa has played above Double-A, where he hit .230/.271/.524 in 133 plate appearances. Though the outfielder has some pop, he is awful at drawing walks, and last year in Triple-A he struck out 43 times next to his 7 walks.

There are also outfield options on minor league deals that could make the team. As I mentioned earlier, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are available, have some upside, though both couldn't crack an on base percentage higher than .290 in 2012, and their slugging was equally awful.

I haven't heard much about him from the media, but perhaps the highest upside player is Thomas Neal. Through the Giants farm system, Neal was a highly touted prospect up until he reached Double-A. In 2009, the right-hander hit 22 home runs and batted .337/.431/.579, but followed that up with a less than inspiring 2010 where he hit .291/.359/.440. In 2011, Neal was probably sent to Triple-A prematurely, and then traded to the Indians after a mediocre season. In 2012, Neal rebounded in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs. Most impressive from the outfielder was his patience at the plate, where he took 46 walks to his 71 strikeouts.

At 25 years old this season, Neal is probably the most mature and best fit of the young guys, assuming the Yankees are willing to move him to the 40 man roster. However, the team needs to continue to look for another viable outfielder. With Granderson breaking his arm, Gardner out for nearly all of last season, and Ichiro 39 years old, the amount of games these three can stay on the field for is a big question. The Yankees really should have a decent fourth outfielder with such risky players.

Even before the Granderson injury, Cashman was still looking for another right-handed outfielder, though the rumors had stopped as of late. Now he has little choice but to start adding depth to this outfield. The team doesn't need to add a Giancarlo Stanton or even Alfonso Soriano, but a young outfielder like Casper Wells or Tyler Colvin should be able to step in and play replacement level ball or better. With only two major league outfielders on the team, and hardly any reasonable choices for a third or fourth, a trade is overdue.

An outfield made of glass?

Yankee spring training has gotten off to a rough start. By now everyone knows that Curtis Granderson will be out until early May with a fractured forearm. That's a huge loss for the Yankees. Granderson's 2012 may have paled in comparison to his 2011, but he's still a critical bat in the Yankee lineup. His absence will be felt immediately. The most glaring weakness that comes from Curtis' injury is the loss of power. Granderson's OBP may be inconsistent, but he's managed 40+ homers each of the past few seasons. That's production I'd rather have on the team than on the bench. The Yankees don't have any substitute on a lineup that was already missing a lot of pop due to injury or players leaving.

But this also means that the Yankees are that much more dependent upon Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to stay healthy. That's no small order. Gardner has been injury prone his entire career. Suzuki is 39 years old. The odds that either of them goes down with an injury, leaving the Yankees with not one but two injured starters in the outfield, is not insignificant.

All of this demonstrates just how little room to maneuver the team has under the new austerity budget. As recently as 2012 the Yankees could turn to Raul Ibanez to step in for Curtis and give the team some power while playing the outfield (badly). This year there is no clear internal replacement. Instead, the Yankees will have to hope Curtis suffers no setbacks in his recovery and that Gardner and Ichiro remain healthy. It's becoming increasingly clear that 2013 will be one of the more interesting, and potentially frustrating, Yankee seasons in recent memory.

Curtis Granderson Out 10 Weeks With A Fractured Right Forearm

There aren't many ways this Spring Training could have gotten off to a worse start.  In his first at-bat of his first ST game of 2013, a game he started as the left fielder rather than the center fielder, Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch from Toronto starter J.A. Happ on the right arm and immediately left the game.  After first being called a "bruised right forearm" by the team, X-rays confirmed that Granderson suffered a fractured right forearm and is expected to be out for 10 weeks. According to Jack Curry, that 10 weeks includes time for both recovery and rehab, which means Granderson could be back in the Yankee lineup by early May, but this is still a huge blow to a team that was already weakened offensively this past offseason.  Granderson has been the most consistent power source in the middle of the lineup for the past two years, and his absence will only further exaggerate the lack of power and lack of depth that could impact this year's team.  More on this story as it becomes available.

** Update 3:22PM- If you're already interested in talking replacements, Cash has shot down the possibility of Eduardo Nunez as an internal option (via Bryan Hoch), and said, "all options as of now are internal" (via Erik Boland).  We'll see... **

When is moving Brett Gardner to center about more than just defense?

Joe Girardi recently announced that Brett Gardner will be taking over in center for Curtis Granderson. On the surface this seems like a logical baseball decision. By all measures, Gardner isn't just the better defensive outfielder, he's the best defensive outfielder in the game. The real question, from a baseball perspective, is why the Yankees ever put Granderson in center at all. But we all know the answer to that. When the Yankees first traded for Granderson they made it clear that he was the Yankee centerfielder of the future. The Yankees gave Curtis centerfield to make him happy, to demonstrate that they were making a commitment to him as a player, even if it meant putting a weaker defense on the field.

Curtis is still on the team, but centerfield is no longer his position. Why make this move now? If anything, Gardner should have to audition for the job. He missed most of 2012 with injuries, while Curtis played 160 games. Why should Gardner get promoted now, especially when the Yankees still have their centerfielder of the future?

The answer may be that Curtis no longer has a future in pinstripes. If that's the case, then this move also serves as a preview of the 2013 Yankee offseason. Once upon a time the Yankees were hinting that they wanted to lock up Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to long term deals. That may no longer be possible, not if the Yankees want to hit their $189 million payroll target and negotiate with Cano's agent, Scott Boras. Moving Granderson to left may be the first step in a series of actions that leads to the team letting him go once he hits free agency, in part to make a serious financial commitment to Cano.

A Curtis Granderson Extension

There hasn't been much talk about a Curtis Granderson extension since last year. On Monday, we learned that the center fielder is open to extension talks with the Yankees, saying, "I'd be a fool not to." But before Granderson had anything to say about playing with the Yankees beyond 2013, it was hard to imagine how the organization could fit another 8 figure annual salary into their planned 2014 budget. As it stands, the team barely has $50 million to spend without Robinson Cano next season, and locking up another player in their 30's might not be the brightest plan. The Yankees will be losing a big chunk of their team in the upcoming offseason. Cano, Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and potentially Derek Jeter will all be free agents come November. Offensively, if the team doesn't re-sign Cano, Granderson, or Youkilis, the Yankees could be down around 90 home runs, and that's after losing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin's 40+ home runs this season.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would be able to trade for a cheap young outfielder like Giancarlo Stanton next season. It would make up for the 40 home runs lost losing Granderson, but the amount of prospects lost could be detrimental to the wholes in the rotation.The only reliable Yankee starting pitcher under control in 2014 is CC Sabathia, and unless you believe in Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, or Manny Banuelos becoming viable #2/#3 starters, the team will need to also obtain cheap quality pitching.

Depending on the circumstances, extending Granderson might make sense. Considering his eagerness to talk extensions, he may be willing to take a home town discount. You could also make the case that his stock is at a low point right now, and I've already pointed out how his offense and defense should improve in 2013. Remember that Granderson is only a year removed from a 7.0 fWAR season, and moving him to left field should help relieve him of his negative defensive value.

At the moment, the cons to extending Granderson are his contact rates and his age. But in 2012, his contact rate and his plate discipline were at career lows, and it's possible that these are outliers. Even if the strikeout trend continues, strikeouts are not as bad as fans believe they are. Remember that Granderson hit into only 5 double plays last season, which are far more unproductive than whiffs.

On his age, Granderson projects to hold up well. For players like Carl Crawford and Michael Bourn, outfielders that made their money with their legs, big contracts into their 30's made less sense because speed is one of the first tools to diminish. Unlike most center fielders, Granderson's power is the basis of his offense, and it's a much more unlikely tool to regress in his early to mid 30's.

So if Granderson is willing to take a hometown discount, the Yankees might be smart to buy low and lock him up. As I pointed out above, losing 90 home runs this offseason could be devastating, and the front office will have to find some way to make up for it. Extending Granderson now gives them some certainty about half of those home runs, and gives them an option over extending Cano in a much more competitive market.

When you take into consideration that Cano is only a year younger and stuck at a position that's historically unkind to a player's health, Granderson emerges as a corner outfielder with the ability to put up the same amount of value going forward. I would assume that Granderson's extension costs less than $100 million in total (perhaps 5 years and $18 million?), which could be around $100 million cheaper than what Cano receives. It's perceived that the second baseman is much more likely to outproduce the outfielder, but when you start looking at cost and history of regression in the middle infield, there is a case to be made that extending Granderson makes more sense.

Piecing it Together: Part Three

In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players' OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results: PECOTA vs RHP

This lineup projects to score 4.874 R/G, which translates to about 790 runs over the course of a 162 game season.

PECOTA vs LHP, Rivera

Using PECOTA and Juan Rivera as the, DH, the Yankees project to score 4.840 R/G, about 785 per 162 games.


Using Matt Diaz at DH, we get 4.805 R/G, which is about 779 runs over 162 games.


ZiPS is a little more friendly to the Yankees, projecting 4.974 R/G. That would push the Yankees over the hump to about 806 runs per game.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Rivera

This gets us 4.887 R/G, about 792 for the season. Again, ZiPS is a little more friendly than PECOTA.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Diaz

Last but not least, we get 4.831 per game, 783 over the course of the season.

So these projections, which are NOT split adjusted, give us somewhere between 785-805 runs for the Yankees. Those are perfectly reasonable, but they do sell the Yankees short a bit. Both are probably a bit conservative and the fact that they're not split adjusted affects the output in the analysis tool. Certainly, e can expect certain players (Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz) to hit better against lefties than their overall projections while we can expect others (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Travis Hafner) to do the same against righties. The Yankee offense has never been flawless, but this season, there do seem to be a few more flaws than there have been in the past. Remember, though, offense has been down in the last few years. Despite the fairly conservative projections, the Yankees have a chance to be a top offensive club, as they always do.