Saturday, August 29, 2015

Was Yankees' 15 Runs Message Or Mirage? Braves' Wisler Will Provide The Answer

[Post-game postscript at end of article for the answer.]

By Barry Millman

Did the Yankees send a message Friday night their great scoring slump of 2015 might finally be over or was it just a mirage?

Coming off a 15-run outburst that exceeded their total offensive output for the prior five games, the Yankees will learn the answer Saturday in the second game of a three-game series against the Braves -- and they'll have only themselves to blame if they don't continue digging their way out of their recent offensive ditch against Atlanta's struggling pitching prospect Matt Wisler.

A former seventh-round Padres draft pick who came to Atlanta in the Craig Kimbrel trade in April, the 22-year-old righty has been throwing batting practice to left-handed batters in the 12 starts since his June 19th debut to the tune of a collective .357 batting average (45-for-126) with 20 of those 45 hits of the extra-base variety, including nine home runs, giving him a grisly 1.100 OPS against southpaws.

The Yankees lineup that put up 15 runs Friday night was all lefties and switch-hitters with the exception of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, and should be in a position to exploit this weakness like few other teams can.

His 5.42 FIP and 70 ERA+ suggest his 5.43 ERA is no mirage and a spot-on accurate portrayal of his run-prone generosity.

His low strikeout rate (5.7 K/9) high walk and hit rates (3.2BB/9, 11.1H/9) and propensity to give up the long ball (1.7 HR/9) have resulted in just two starts lasting longer than six innings and none longer than 5.1 innings over his last five starts going back more than a month -- a span over which he's amassed a 9.03 ERA and gone 0-3.

Wisler is made-to-order cannon fodder for the Yankees bats and should be the perfect barometer to gauge the state of their slump.

If they light him up, it would at least mean they're hitting pitchers throwing baseballs they're supposed to be hitting, and that would spell genuine progress toward putting the slump behind them.

If they can't light him up and send him packing early, though, it will serve notice Friday night's 15-run game was definitely more mirage than barrage.

[Post-game postscript: The Yankee beat the Braves 3-1, but the struggling Wisler turned his season around with his first quality start in more than a month against them. The following game summary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wraps it up nicely:

"The Yankees scored a run on a wild pitch in the first inning and led all the way in a 3-1 win against the Braves, who stranded two runners apiece in the seventh and eighth innings. Braves rookie Matt Wisler had a strong performance, allowing four hits, two runs and four walks in six innings. But Yankees rookie Luis Severino was even better, pitching six shutout innings (four hits, three walks). The Braves have lost 11 of their past 12 games."

The difference between Wisler's and Severino's starts is almost negligible. The Yankees went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left seven runners stranded against one of the most troubled pitchers on one of the most troubled teams in MLB. Therefore, the verdict is in on the 15-run outburst in the first game of this series: Mirage.]

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter at @nyyankeefanfore.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

It's The Gillooly Option For C.C. Sabathia: Girardi Gave Hints Knee May Be End Game

By Barry Millman 

The Gillooly option is at hand.  

Of the three possible final exit scenarios for Yankees' starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia detailed in my blog for several months now, it looks like Option #3 -- the one explicitly mentioned last month by manager Joe Girardi -- will be the door through which Sabathia is finally pushed from the Yankees' starting rotation forever. 

Early reports quote Sabathia saying he blames pushing through discomfort in his surgically-repaired right knee to throw his fastball harder as the cause for his impending exit. Another way to put that would be he never mastered the ability to get outs three times through a batting order any other way this year. 

Could he possibly have found those necessary skills had he acquiesced to a role in the bullpen to diligently search for them as Option #1 might have afforded him? Might the Yankees have been able to get anything useful in return for him had they shopped him around and offered to eat most of his remaining salary as Option #2 might have afforded them? 

Nobody will ever know now.  Of the three options, the third was the one offering the least added value to the team. However, it was probably the one affording Sabathia the least humiliating exit. So for those who place a value on such things, there's that at least.

[Update: Sabathia has at long last indicated a willingness to pitch out of the bullpen, but early reactions from the team to that offer are, not surprisingly,  guarded and subdued to say the least. ]

Below, I have re-published my July 5th post that identified the options and Girardi's first hint Option #3 had become Sabathia's most likely end game. 

Sabathia's Skipped Start May Be First Step 

Toward Pushing Him Out The Door Forever

Sabathia, in an all too familiar pose this year, watches one leave the yard.

By Barry Millman

It's taken them long enough, but the Yankees have finally decided it isn't too impolite after all to ask C.C. Sabathia, their highest-paid, worst-performing player to take a few days off and use the time  to work on his problems in extra bullpen sessions rather than during games.

By all accounts, including  team beat writer Brendan Kuty's, Sabathia's reaction to the idea he should be treated like any other player whose performance had slipped to the bottom of his peers in MLB was less than noble.

Interestingly, in announcing that Ivan Nova would take Sabathia's normal turn in the rotation against the Rays today, manager Joe Girardi also opened the door a crack to yet another remedy to the Sabathia dilemma should the extra bullpen work prove fruitless by mentioning he thought the pitcher "could be dealing with issues with the right knee that caused him to miss almost all of 2014 and worried the Yankees in spring training."

As I've noted before, there's only three possible doors the Yankees can push C.C. through to get him out of the rotation where he's blocking better pitchers in the system and blowing up leads every week:

1) Sending him to the bullpen and converting him to a reliever so he doesn't have to face batters more than once or twice  per appearance,  which would improve his chances to become a team asset rather than a liability and rebuild his value -- a tactic that has had proven success elsewhere but would require his cooperation and willingness to admit he has serious problems, an as-yet-unrealized development;

2) Designating him for assignment with an offer to eat the vast majority of his remaining $53 million salary in the hope of getting a useful trade piece or two in return, or

3) The Gillooly option: Finding some medical excuse connected to his prior surgeries to send him on extended leave via the disabled list and then forcing him to the minors for rehab starts to fix his problems there-- assuming, of course, they're fixable.

Don't look now C.C. but those footsteps you're hearing may finally be headed toward one of those doors.

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Yankees Farm Is Sending Reinforcements
To The Big Club At A Record-Busting Pace

By Barry Millman

When 22-year-old Greg Bird banged out a pair of  two-run bombs in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, he became the answer to a team trivia question by becoming just the third player to notch a multi-homer performance within five games of his major league debut in pinstripes.  

However, it was six days earlier when he took the field for his inauspicious 0-for-5 debut in Cleveland that he really made his mark on the Yankee record books by becoming the team's 15th farmhand to make it to the show this season  -- the most in MLB and surpassing the team's 1905 and 1914 clubs to make the 2015 Yankees the launching pad for the second-most major league debuts in team history.  Only the 1912 club which recorded 17 major league debuts had more. 

Contributions from the ten rookie pitchers, three rookie outfielders and two rookie infielders delivered into the fray to date by the team's retooled farm system have varied from the minor to the major, and represent the tip of a spear that could prove to be a potent weapon for the stretch run.

With a furious divisional battle testing the limits of all the big club's regulars and a farm system that's played no small part in a campaign whose success has been surprising to many, the coming expansion of rosters to their full 40-man potential in eleven days will almost certainly shatter the record  -- and along with it, quite possibly, the long-held image of a farm system too green and a big club too old to go the distance.

2015 Yankees Major League Debuts To Date

April 11   Matt Tracy, 26   LHP   
24th round, 2011 amateur draft.

April 15   Branden Pinder, 26   RHP   
16th round, 2011 amateur draft.

May 20    Slade Heathcott, 24   Outfielder   
1st round, 2009 amateur draft.

May 25   Jacob Lindgren, 22   LHP   
2nd round, 2014 amateur draft.

May 30   Ramon Flores, 23    Outfielder   
Amateur free agent signed 2008.

June 12   Mason Williams, 23   Outfielder   
4th round, 2010 amateur draft. 

June 21   Danny Burawa, 26   RHP   
12th round, 2010 amateur draft.

June 21   Jose De Paula, 27   LHP   
Free agent signed 2014.   

June 22   Diego Moreno, 27   RHP   
Acquired as part of  A.J. Burnett trade 2012.

June 23   Nick Rumbelow, 23   RHP   
7th round, 2013 amateur draft.

July 11   Rob Refsnyder, 24   Second Baseman   
5th round, 2012 amateur draft.

July 29   Caleb Cotham, 27   RHP   
5th round, 2009 amateur draft.

July 30   Nick Goody, 24   RHP   
6th round, 2012 amateur draft.

August 5   Luis Severino, 21   RHP   
Amateur free agent signed 2011.

August 13   Greg Bird, 22   First Baseman    
5th round, 2011 amateur draft.   

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter at @nyyankeefanfore.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mantle's Most Outstanding Yankee Stadium Moment Was A 'Blow' To Team's PR Boss

By Barry Millman

Twenty years ago today, Mickey Mantle passed away -- and if you're  under 18 years of age, easily disturbed by coarse language or vivid written descriptions of sexual acts, please leave my blog now and mark the occasion by clicking here to learn more about him and reflect accordingly.

The rest of you who know anything at all about the Mick are aware he lived life to the fullest and then some, and so may have already heard this one, but it never gets old -- and since I felt he would prefer we celebrate his life rather than mourn his death today, I present this morsel from the smorgasbord that was his life in pinstripes.

The 1973 Yankee season was the fiftieth and final one to be played in the original Yankee Stadium, and the team planned to commemorate the landmark year with a series of special publications, tributes and events culminating in a star-studded Old Timers Day on August 11 -- the day before wrecking balls would move in to level the place and all games would be moved to Shea Stadium for two years. 

In preparing for the festivities, the team's public relations vice president Bob Fishel ordered a questionnaire be sent to all the former Yankee greats who would be attending asking them what their most outstanding experience at the Stadium had been. 

Mickey Mantle's handwritten response:

Marty Appel, the PR director who had drafted the mailing and received the Mick's reply, later claimed he did it to shock and demean Fishel, who he said Mantle personally resented for his button-down persona. Others have since posited it was a rebellious act of defiance against the squeaky-clean image the team had spun around him like a strait-jacket throughout his career. 

Whatever the reason, Appel, mindful of his boss's marketing objectives, dutifully rewrote the reply to read that the Mick's chosen moment was his ninth-inning home run in game 3 of the 1964 World Series. At  Old Timers Day,  Mantle hit a ceremonial pitch from Whitey Ford over the fence for his final home run. The document wound up in the collection of minority owner Barry Halper and didn't surface into the public eye until he auctioned off its contents a quarter century later in 1999.

Whether the Mick's bleacher creature escapade definitively occurred or not, nobody has ever been willing to say.

The only thing that's certain is 20 years after his passing, the hard-hitting, hard-living Mantle can still make us shake our heads in wonder.  

Rest in peace, All American Boy. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

No, Yankee Universe, The Sky Isn't Falling

Yankee fans shouldn't be scared -- unless they jostle Tex. 

By Barry Millman

These are the times that try Yankee fans' souls.

The first back-to-back shutouts in 16 years. Three solid pitching starts wasted.  A single run scored in a three-game series. A 4 1/2-game lead chopped to a slender 1 1/2 games and a suddenly do-no-wrong Toronto team swept the Yankees right out of their own house for their eighth consecutive  win.

No, Yankee Universe, the sky isn't falling;  just the temperature of the Yankee bats, which had produced 90 runs in 10 games, a ridiculous rate that not only wasn't sustainable, but spoiled many a fan and set them up for a fall. And when the fall came, it fell hard.

The second-highest scoring team in MLB hit just .151 and scored a single run in their three-game series against the trade-reloaded and newly resurgent Toronto Blue Jays, the highest scoring team in MLB -- who just happen to be chasing them in the standings. In doing so, they extended a slump that began with the second game of the Red Sox series Wednesday and has now seen them hit just .163 over 153 at-bats. No Yankee team in history has scored less over such a span.

Put another way, before they ever stepped into the street for the latest (but far from last) shootout with their biggest rivals, their guns were already jammed. 

Talk about really, really bad timing.

Throw in a decision by Joe Girardi to leave a gassed Ivan Nova hanging out to dry one batter too many that triggered a tsunami of second-guessing his every move past, present and future; some absurdly raised expectations by "analysts" who spread a bunch of misguided pre-series Yankees-own-David Price smack; a young Yankee fan beaning and bruising an unwary Brett Gardner in the back of his skull with Jose Bautista's home run ball;  an adult Yankee fan receiving an angry lecture from Mark Teixeira on why it's not a good idea to strike the arm (twice) of prone infielders who dove into the stands in pursuit of foul balls; and you had about as ugly a weekend spectacle as any fan of a first-place team could imagine.

[Note to those Price analysts: His now 7-2 record and splits at the new Yankee Stadium were all decidedly in his favor. Next time, don't go by two starts with the tail-spinning Tigers.]

Sadly,  it was also a perfect incubator for a bumper crop of snakebit Chicken Littles on social media chirping how the sky -- or at least the quadrant encompassing all their postseason hopes and dreams -- was seemingly crashing to earth on their heads like Bautista's ball on Gardner's noggin.

Time for everyone, team and fans alike,  to take a deep breath and exhale. Anyone who didn't expect this race to tighten and become a dogfight was dreaming. In any year the division is cannibalistic, with every team, regardless of record or competence,  taking big bites out of each other. Even in 2009 when the fully loaded Bombers -- fueled by an offseason half-billion-dollar free-agent spending spree -- won the American League East going away, it was a pitched battle for much of the year with the pinstripers not even touching first place for the first 47 games, and then were themselves furiously fighting to protect a slim half-game lead as late as the first week of August.

The good news is there's still a long way to go and both teams will revert to their mean -- which will be good news for the Yankees because the last five games have been a stark anomaly compared to the last four months whereas the last eight games for Toronto most certainly are.  

Still more obvious good news, of course, is they're still in first place; this was the first series the team has lost in two months and, as Alex Rodriguez pointed out during the post-game media gaggle, this team has a track record of resiliency: "We definitely took a punch this weekend, and good teams punch back," he said. "We've taken punches before and the season's never a straight line."

Next up, a well-timed rest day in the schedule Monday before a brief six-day road trip that begins in Cleveland for three games with the 51-59  AL Central Indians. As good a place as any for them to start punching back and prepare for their next shootout with the Blue Jays -- set for the very next three days in Toronto. 

Fair warning to all unwary outfielders, diving first basemen and especially Chicken Littles: Strap on your helmets and brace yourselves.  

This race is a long way from over, and it isn't for the faint of heart. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.