Reese Kaplan -- Scouting the Enemy -- NY Yankees

Oh, how times have changed!  As a Mets fan, other than the Miracle Mets of 1969 and a brief flirtation in the middle part of the 1980s during the 2nd World Championship, New York has always been a Yankees town.  Even now with two straight post-season appearances for the Mets while the Yankees remained out of the running, there’s still no clear frontrunner for the title Kings of New York.  

To wit, a Friday New York Post article cited a recent Quinnipiac University poll regarding the preference for the New York baseball teams and it's too close to call, "In the subway series between the Mets and the Yankees, 45 percent support the Amazins from Flushing to 43 percent for the Bronx Bombers — a virtual tie that requires extra innings to settle, a new Quinnipiac University poll released Friday reveals."  However, as the numbers move outside the Big Apple they still skew very heavily in the Yanks' favor.  Suburbanites and upstaters still embrace the Bronx Bombers as their team of choice by a wide margin.

Gone are days of George Steinbrenner throwing millions upon millions of dollars to buy his way into the post season.  Although the Yankee payroll still sits at a lofty $195 million, a lot of that total represents legacy contracts closer to ending than beginning.  The Yankees in their own way have their Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce crosses to bear, just more of them.  Come 2019 when most are off the books expect them to return to the free spending ways.  Let’s take a closer look.

Starting Pitching

Big C.C. Sabathia has had an up and down Yankees career, marred by both injuries and drinking that derailed a once stellar resume.  The overall pinstripe body of work doesn’t sound bad – 8 years with 108 wins, a 3.75 ERA and 8 Ks per 9 IP.  However , those numbers are skewed by a good start to his Bronx tenure.  The last four years have been quite pedestrian – 32-29, 4.54 ERA, downticks in strikeouts, upticks in walks, hits, HRs allowed and BAA.  The depth chart has the once ace of the staff now listed as SP3 behind Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.

The Yankees seem to have a penchant for big hurlers and Michael Pineda is cut from the same oversized mold as Sabathia.  After a solid rookie campaign the Mariners and Yankees did a pitcher for catcher swap, sending young stars with great potential to the other coast.  Jesus Montero has been a major bust with not enough hitting or conditioning to overcome his defensive challenges and to date has only logged one full season in the bigs.  Throw in some attitude problems (throwing an ice cream sandwich at a scout), and you can say the Yankees got the better end of this deal.  Unfortunately Pineda missed two full seasons and part of another due to injury, but when he came back for 13 starts in 2014 he was nothing short of brilliant – 5 wins, 1.89 ERA and a miniscule WHIP of 0.825.  Unfortunately it’s not been sustainable and his past two seasons while mostly healthy have been forgettable – a losing record, and a 4.60 ERA.

Masahiro Tanaka looked to be one of the brilliant Japanese imports when he started his career with a flourish.  His three years for the Yankees have been terrific when healthy, with a combined 39-16 record with a 3.12 ERA.  It’s doubly impressive when you see he’s not a huge strikeout guy either. 

Luis Severino is another pitcher who set the expectations bar quite high when he turned in a rookie season with 11 starts, a 5-3 record with a 2.89 ERA and an acceptable but unspectacular ability to keep men off base.  Imagine the disappointment then to follow it up with a season as both a starter and reliever that ended with an ugly 5.89 ERA and upticks in every negative pitching stat. 

Chad Green is penciled in as the 5th starter though on Wednesday manager Joe Girardi said he may not carry a traditional fifth starter.  Regardless, Green delivered a “meh” rookie season last year with 4.73 ERA, a .272 BAA, and a high 1.40 WHIP.

The pitching rotation is a combination of Tanaka, seen better days, and hope for rapid turnaround.  It’s not a strength by any means. 


As bad as the starting rotation is for the Bronx Bombers, I’ll put their bullpen up against anyone in the game.  Led by the returning Aroldis Chapman, they also feature All-Star Dellin Betances and All Star Tyler Clippard as part of a very solid crew that’s going to be used often almost every game given the dearth of quality among the starters. 

Behind them you have Adam Warren who pitched well during his first stint with the Yankees before getting roughed up a bit in Chicago last year.  Lefty Tommy Layne pitched better for the Yankees than he did for the Red Sox last year and this late bloomer has delivered decent quality somewhat anonymously since 2012.  Fellow lefty Chasen Shreve was brilliant for the Braves before becoming a 59 game mainstay in the Yankees pen in 2015, but hit a bump in the road last year.  Still, a career ERA of 3.47 is highly respectable. 


At 1B the Yankees will feature Greg Bird, a guy who showed 40 HR power in a ¼ season trial last year but also a 200K liability.  This spring he appears not only fully healed from his shoulder surgery, but demonstrated power to both fields, flashing good leather at 1B and showing a much improved eye.  He’s definitely one to watch.

Second baseman Starlin Castro is what he is – a free swinger who doesn’t walk, doesn’t run particularly well and plays uneven defense.  However, he liked his introduction to the short porches in Yankee Stadium and turned in some very nice numbers with 21 HRs and a .270 batting average – nice value for a relatively paltry $7.8 million salary.  Unfortunately for the Yankees his paycheck goes up considerably each year through 2020 when, if they exercise their option, he will earn $16 million.

Didi Gregorius turned in a year no one ever expected with 20 HRs, but he’s on the shelf now until at least mid May.  In his stead the team is expected to turn to youngster Ronald Torreyes.  Think Matt Reynolds with a little more speed and a little less power.  He’s simply treading water until Gregorius returns. 

At 3B the Yankees are saddled with a rather expensive and unproductive veteran whose better days are behind him in Chase Headley.  He’s now good for about 12 HRs, 60 RBIs and a .255 AVG which is not particularly good value for the $13 million he’s earning. 

Perhaps the crown jewel of the infield is young catcher Gary Sanchez.  In just 201 ABs last year he delivered 20 HRs and 42 RBIs while hitting .296.  Add to that his .991 fielding percentage with a nearly 41% success rate throwing out would-be base stealers and all you can say is, “Wow!”


The Yankee outfield overall is fairly weak.

In LF you have Brett Gardner, the one-time speedster who has apparently slowed down quite a bit as he hit his 30s.  Last year he delivered 7 HRs, 41 RBIs and 16 SBs (75% success rate).  For about $13 million, that’s not great.

In CF you have Jacoby Ellsbury who fared only slightly better than his LF counterpart.  He provided 9 HRs, 56 RBIs, a .263 average and 20 SBs…not bad, but certainly not worth nearly $22 million!

Right field is supposed to belong to oversized slugger Aaron Judge.  He’s another whiff artist whose brief trial was not the stuff of legends.  He hit 4 HRs and drove in 10 over 84 ABs with a .179 average.  The real problem was his 48% strikeout rate which makes Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and old friend Kirk Nieuwenhuis downright selective by comparison.  They’re handing him the role this year based upon a minor league track record of as many as 20 HRs in a season.  However, defensive specialist Aaron Hicks has had a solid spring and Judge may not have done enough to warrant the starting job which makes him parallel Michael Conforto’s likely fate – returning to AAA so he can play everyday. 


Here’s a real wildcard for the Yankees – Matt Holliday.  He’s now 37 and not the force he once was, but even at age 36 he was still able to deliver the Cardinals 20 HRs and 62 RBIs in 382 ABs.  The troubling number was his batting average of just .246, but Yankee Stadium often revives players’ number a’la Coors Field.  Although he’s a career .303 hitter, he hasn’t approached that plateau since 2013.  Backing him up is NL home run leader Chris Carter who despite 41 HRs and 94 RBIs is slated to be a bench player at this point for the Bronx Bombers. 


The Yankees may have some good pop from four players – Bird, Castro, Gregorius (when he returns) and Sanchez, but it gets pretty ugly after that.  Throw in some probable 30 HR numbers collectively out of the DH position and that’s 6 out of 9 spots in the batting order with some good potential, but then you have Headley, Gardner and Ellsbury all in major decline.  If the younger players can click, they might provide decent offense. 

The starting pitching, however, is pretty mediocre and that strong bullpen is likely to get overworked during the course of the year.  With improvements in Boston I would expect them to take the division, followed by slugging Toronto and underrated Baltimore, leaving the Yanks and Rays to fight it out for the cellar.  Given the relative health of the Yankees over the Rays, I give them the edge for 4th place with the Rays pulling up the rear. 


Thomas Brennan said...

They await Gleyber and Clint, and in 2018 should be a much tougher opponent. The Mets are at least 10 games better, IMO, maybe 20.

bill metsiac said...

"ALL-STAR"Tyler Clippard. Gee, I wish we could get him.😈

Reese Kaplan said...

As usual you have a problem with facts. He's a two-time All Star.


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