Thursday, May 09, 2019

Returning Injured Yankees Can Be A Problem

The New York Yankees projected a powerhouse lineup to begin the 2019 season but all that was derailed by injuries up and down the potent cast. While it is anyone's guess when Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius return, there have begun a slow dribble of returning players such as Gary Sanchez and Miguel Andujar. And perhaps this weekend might see the return of Aaron Hicks. Such returns are not always good things.

Teams get into a sort of rhythm with regular games occurring nearly every day. This group of Yankee scrubs have been playing together for a while and have gelled and have given Yankee fans unexpected thrills along the way.

Suddenly that flow gets interrupted when a player returns. Gary Sanchez is probably an exception to that statement because he is so much better than the alternatives. But others have to shake off the rust, may take a while to get going and could under-perform the scrubs who have been playing regularly.

Miguel Andujar is a strong case in point. Last year, Andujar arrived with a bang. He has come back from the DL with a whimper. He started a couple of games at third forcing Gio Urshela back to the bench. The result might have led to that loss to the Twins. He has started in the field three games and has made three errors, shown limited range and hasn't hit his weight.

How is Aaron Hicks going to start when he rejoins the Yankees? Will he show obvious signs of rust? Will he start slowly at the plate? Those are the risks that occur when you replace a guy who is in the flow of things with a guy with better talent coming back from an injury. Who will the Yankees send down when Hicks returns? Will it be Mike Tauchman who has held his own at the plate (around one bad slump) and has played a terrific outfield? Or will it be Thairo Estrada, who has also shown good leather plus a good bat and is much more versatile than Andujar?

What I am trying to say here is that a return of regulars does not always push immediate buttons and sometimes leads to a bit of a downturn in on-field performance until the returnees get settled in. If you want to read more, Chris Carelli wrote a good perspective on some problems that develop like this in his SNY piece today.

In other thoughts, losing James Paxton for three weeks to a month might be the most damaging of all the injuries the Yankees have suffered thus far. Paxton was developing into the Yankee ace he was expected to be. The slack left by Luis Severino has been picked up by Domingo German. But nobody is going to bring what Paxton brings to the Yankees. Last night's lopsided loss was a testament to how much that loss hurts.

The loss of Dellin Betances has been felt all season as the Yankees seem to be one arm short all the time in the bullpen. If Paxton was to miss more time than a month, the rotation would have an equally harmful hole and necessitate Brian Cashman to lose prospects to bring in another starting pitcher.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Some Unsung Babe Ruth Facts

The idea for this post developed while I was searching if Babe Ruth ever hit a home run, stole a base and pitched in the same game. I had heard some facts on Pablo Sandoval and his exploits of that trifecta being the first time anyone had performed such a feat since 1905. And no, Babe Ruth never hit a home run and stole a base in the same game that he pitched. But checking it out and looking at Babe Ruth's page did show me some things that blew my mind. So I thought I would share them with you.

There are two ways you can tell analytics did not exist back in Babe Ruth's time and one of those also showed how much animosity the press had with Ruth back in his playing time:

  1. During his post-pitching career--basically from 1919 on, Babe Ruth sacrifice bunted 99 times in his career. What!? The most fearsome hitter of his era (or perhaps any era) gave himself up 99 times. Either his managers were dopes or Ruth did those things on his own to try to be a team player. In 1930, Babe hit 49 homers and batted .359 with a 1.225 OPS. Incredible numbers, but even so, he had 21 sacrifice bunts that season after having 13 the season before. At the peak of his powers, he either was asked to bunt or bunted on his own 66 times in a five year period. He even had 14 Sacrifices in 1927 when he hit 60 homers. Bob Shawkey was his manager in 1930. The team finished third that season. Joe McCarthy took over the following season and Babe Ruth never had another sacrifice bunt.
  2. Babe Ruth only won one MVP Award. That was in 1923. The award was re-instituted in 1922 after a hiatus since 1914. Ridiculously, Babe Ruth did not get another MVP vote (not a single vote in between) until 1931 when he finished fifth. The following year, Ruth finished sixth. In contrast, Lou Gehrig won two MVP's and finished in the top five six other times. Babe Ruth played fifteen seasons for the Yankees and hit 659 homers during that time with a compiled 135.5 Wins Above Replacement during those seasons and only received MVP votes in three of those seasons. What a crock.

Most people think of Babe Ruth as the Yankees' right fielder. And for the latter third of his career, he mostly was. But Babe Ruth started almost as many games in his career as a left fielder as he did in right. Ruth started 1120 games in right field during his career and 1040 in left. He also started 64 games in center field and another 23 at first base. Ruth was lousy at first but he had a higher than league average fielding percentage in all three outfield positions. I don't know how b-ref figured range figures for back then, but according to them, Ruth also had better range than league average at all three outfield positions. He was not just a fat guy who slugged homers.

Babe Ruth won all three of his World Series pitching starts (all with the Red Sox). In those games, he pitched 31 innings and gave up three runs on 19 hits. His one start in 1916 lasted fourteen innings and he pitched them all to get the win.

Ruth's World Series OPS at 1.214 in 41 games was higher than his career average of 1.164. He was the original Mr. October. Between his pitching and batting careers, he won eight World Series titles.

Babe Ruth was the best pitcher in baseball in 1916. He led the league in starts with 40, ERA at 1.75, Shut outs (9), and hits per nine innings. He did not give up a home run that entire season. He was nearly as good in 1917 but gave up two homers that season. Add that up and he pitched 650 innings, gave up only 474 hits and only gave up two homers. He was a better pitcher than people realize.

Sometimes, we get images of the great Babe Ruth striking out and it makes us think he struck out a lot. But in all of his seasons, he struck out more than 89 times only twice (93, 90). Lest you think he was only a three outcome kind of guy, he batted higher than .350 eight times in his career.

Babe Ruth led the lead in extra base hits (doubles + triples + homers) six times in his career. In 1921, he had 119 of them (out of 204 hits). That has been a MLB record ever since. It was only threatened once by Lou Gehrig who had 117 in 1927. Barry Bonds had 107 in 2001 and that has been the closest anyone has been since. As you can imagine, Ruth's 457 total bases that season was only threatened once, by Rogers Hornsby with 450. That single season total has also been a record since 1921.

Babe Ruth led the league in Runs Scored eight times and seven times scored more than 150 runs in a season.

I could probably go on a lot longer, but I'm getting hungry. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and watch Babe Ruth play. Yes, I know it was a segregated game back when Babe Ruth played. Even so, no one has ever dominated the sport like he did.

Monday, May 06, 2019

The Yankees This Week - Seattle and Tampa Bay

The New York Yankees enter the second week in May and continue to hang on despite their incredible string of injuries. The two-game sweep by Arizona last week was unfortunate but taking two of three from a much-improved Minnesota Twins helped ease the pain a little bit. This could be an important week as the Yankees face two unexpectedly good teams in the Mariners and Bay Rays.

As expected, the Red Sox are starting to right their ship and are only a game under .500. They just lost David Price with elbow problems, but are in good shape otherwise. Also as expected, the Rays are not running away with the AL East as the opening weeks of the season seemed to portend. I did not believe it then and I do not believe it now. Still, they are a smart team and will pose problems for the Yankees this coming weekend, especially at their stink-house, Tropicana Field. More on that later.

First, the Yankees must deal with the Seattle Mariners who come to Yankee Stadium for a four-game set. The Mariners started on fire and were the big story (along with the Rays) in the AL at the start of the season. But they have lost nine of the team's last twelve games and the Astros have regained their expected spot at the top of the AL West. Frankly, the Mariners are a team with a ton of holes.

First off, the Mariners' current rotation consists of Felix Hernandez who, at this stage of his career, sort of resembles Pedro Martinez in his Mets days. There has been a lot of gas leaked out of his arm over the long haul and his reputation will get him a while, but he's no longer a great pitcher. The rest of the rotation consists of Mike Leake, Marco Gonzalez (who will come back to earth), Yusei Kikuchi and Eric Swanson. Despite Gonzalez's early success, Kikuchi and Swanson might be their best two. The Yankees will face the entire rotation except for Swanson.

The Mariners lead the American League in homers. Who saw that coming? But along with those homers comes many, many strikeouts as they lead the AL in that category too. This drags their OPS down to third in the AL and falling. However, Edwin Encarnacion always gives the Yankees fits and they have a DH named, Daniel Vogelbach, who is killing the ball and does not strike out a lot. Mitch Haniger is probably the team's best all-around player.

The Yankees will start CC Sabathia tonight which means two starting pitchers with 951 combined MLB starts, but their better days behind them. Which one can spin the most magic tonight? Masahiro Tanaka--always a 50-50 proposition--will be battling with Marco Estrada tomorrow. The Yankees have not announced a starter for Wednesday, but it could be Jonathan Loaisiga taking what was James Paxton's spot. JA Happ will face Kikuchi on Thursday.

Clint Frazier is back and in the lineup for the Yankees tonight and will play right field. That should help. The Yankees have wisely listened to me (heh) and are DHing Miguel Andujar and starting Gio Urshela at third. Nice. The lineup looks more potent than it has in more than a week now but Luke Voit has been slumping the last couple of games.

It would be nice if the Yankees could win three of four of these games and they are certainly capable of that. The Mariners' bullpen and the Yankees' bullpen have both been an adventure and it might come down to which team's pen performs better. The minimum is that the Yankees have to at least split this series.

After Thursday's game, the Yankees will fly down to that house of horrors in St. Petersburg to play the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays' offense is just middle of the road and the Yankees will catch them with Joey Wendle and Austin Meadows on the DL. Meadows has been a nice break out star and losing him hurts the Rays. Brandon Lowe and Tommy Pham are their two best remaining offensive players.

It will be a tough three game series for the Yankees offensively. They will miss Charlie Morton who gives them fits, but they will probably see Blake Snell at the end of the weekend (though he has struggled a bit lately) and definitely will see this year's wunderkind, Taylor Glasnow. Glasnow has been amazing thus far. I mean, super amazing.

There is a possibility of Aaron Hicks being ready for the weekend series, but frankly, the Yankees should wait until after the Tampa series. Why have Hicks running around on that green concrete as his first taste back?

My gut feelings is that facing Snell and Glasnow and thinking about the Yankees at that horror field and their lack of success there, the Yankees will be fortunate to win one of the three games. That is why winning three against the Mariners is important. This is certainly a week where the Yankees need to hold their own because, on review, it could be a long, long week for Yankee fans.