Well, that is in the little bit of October the Yankees were actually involved in this year. They made it to the playoffs but only by wildcard qualification. And then in the one-game wildcard playoff, they failed to produce a single run in their game against the Houston Astros. Let’s look at what went wrong… and one or two things that went right and look bright for the future.
|New York Yankees – Batting – Month – September / October – Regular Season|
|Murphy, John Ryan||14||33||5||9||3||1||0||2||5||9||0||0||0||.273||.485||.385|
I was fortunate this year in being able to spend most of September in and around Yankee Stadium and assess these things first hand and, believe me, there was a lot that wasn’t pretty. Let’s undertake our usual survey.
The Yankees took the unusual step of carrying 4 catchers in the last-month-plus of the regular season. However, in reality, it worked out that only two of those were used behind the plate – the usual pairing of Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy.
The others found themselves sitting on the bench more than anyone else on the roster. Austin Romine made his sole appearance in the team as a first-base man and went hitless. First base was a particular problem for the Yankees in the latter stages with Greg Bird proving a little one-sided, Mark Teixeira remaining on the disabled list and an attempt to make Alex Rodriguez into an occasional first baseman stalling before it even got out of the starting blocks so that Romine got so little time there and none at catcher can hardly be an encouragement for him. His season at triple-A, Scranton, had shown a marked improvement in offense (92 G, .260 BA, 7 HRs) but his future in the Yankees organisation does not look bright.
On the other hand, Sanchez is obviously a capable hitter who was just given too few opportunities in his first stay in the Majors as he is showing by lighting up the Arizona Fall League at the moment. Interestingly, he was used by the big league club solely as a pinch hitter and my thought is that in the long-term he will have best possibilities as the Yankees’ designated hitter. However, there is a considerable A-Rod-sized roadblock in that position for the next couple of years.
John Ryan Murphy finished off the year in the way that he played through all of it. His batting average from September 1st (.273) was a fraction lower than the season’s .277 but he raised his home run total from 1 to 3 with a pair of late season circuit shots. He is a defensively good but not outstanding, low power hitter who can hit for average and the Yankees would be foolish not to keep him around.
By contrast, I would be raising more questions about Brian McCann than the Yankees’ management seem to be inclined to. His end-of-season .174 from September 1st placed him last on the team for that period (behind even the much-maligned Stephen Drew) and consequently saw his whole season figures grind in at a much-lower-than-desired .232. His 42 extra base hits on the season have usually been evenly divided between the months of the season but in this final period there were only three home runs and no doubles. There is no question the Yankees need power and they need the great defense he provides but when they signed him they must have been hoping for something more in the .260 sort of range which he had looked capable of at Atlanta. 2015 was a better year for him but only in terms of walks and home runs. His contract requires him to be paid $17m per season for the next three years. That would be tough to move elsewhere but if I was the Yankees’ management and I was offered the opportunity to do so in the close season, I would be forgiven for giving it a second thought.
Greg Bird continued to grow into his role as first baseman in the last months of the season. As already noted he had to, since there was few other options for Joe Girardi to turn to as the extent of Mark Teixeira’s injury became apparent. Bird’s .267 from September 1st raised his season average to .261 whilst his 9 home runs (16 extra base hits total) raised his season total to 11 (of 20 extra base hits). However, it must be noted, Bird’s figures show that he is much more capable against right-handed pitching than against left-handed and he looks weak sometimes making fielding plays that require him to move towards second base. Certainly, he is not the complete package in the field. Bird’s major problem is the one that gave him the opportunity in 2015 – Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is expected to return from injury next season and has 1 more year of his 8 year deal to serve and is the 2nd biggest contract on the Yankees’ roster with his deal having him scheduled to receive $22.5M for his remaining year. If fit, Teixeira is better than Bird in the field and is the more-rounded offensive player – which leaves Bird wondering if he will spend most of 2016 back in Scranton. Certainly, this will suit the Yankees better than having him warming a bench round the major league ballparks as time at DH is unlikely because of that roadblock which we mentioned earlier. All the signs are that 2016 is going to be a difficult adjustment for Greg Bird.
Second base was an unusual position for the Yankees as the season drew to a close with 5 players used there in September and October. In the early part of the month, Stephen Drew, who had improved in August, still held onto that role. But later, first because of poor performance then because of reported dizziness he fell out of contention. Despite the fact that Rob Refsnyder had been called up as the rosters expanded, the Yankees brass seemed to have an aversion to using him and handed the role to Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan. Ackley had impressed in left field after returning from injury and deserved his chance in the infield. He continued to do well but then for no apparent reason there was a change of policy and Refsnyder who it had seemed was not to be trusted with the second-base glove suddenly became the every day choice.
Out of this group, there were winners and losers. Drew made a couple of horrible fielding errors when receiving the ball from Headley at third which left the press corps wondering who to blame and saw his batting average from September 1st fall well below the Mendoza line as his .176 for this period saw him finish the year on a resounding .201. Ackley had much more to offer in the field than was expected and had the added advantage of being able to show his flair in the outfield too. His batting average of .306 from the beginning of September was much more than he was delivering towards the end of his tenure at Seattle and all of a sudden this is beginning to look like a good trade. He also produced 9 extra base hits during this period – with doubles, triples, and home runs all on the menu. All of this would mean that I would definitely have him in the mix for 2016 but then I would have said that about Martin Prado at this time last year and there are haunting similarities so who knows.
Refsnyder wasn’t embarrassing himself in the field although he clearly still has some to learn – as should be expected. His batting — .355, 4 extra base hits with some base speed — during this period was better than anyone would have hoped for given the step up and the pressure of the time of the year. Ryan had one of his better periods for getting on-base with his .269 raising his season total to .229. As usual, this was made up of singles and walks so he will continue to be a backup player for the Yankees if they decide to keep him around.
Finally, there was Jose Pirela who is clearly out of favour, despite producing .375 in the small sample of opportunities he was given in this period. Most of this came in pinch-hitting roles with only one appearance at second base. He will need to have an exceptional Spring if he is to come back into the reckoning for 2016.
Of these players, Drew is the obvious player to let go – both on performance terms and because he is a free agent. But the same was the case in 2014, so who can positively understand the machinations of how the Yankees’ thought process works. Ackley signed a deal for 2015 which was a fraction of what he had earned in the past, despite being represented by Scott Boras (no mean achievement) and should be worth keeping around but so much depends on how Girardi and his coaches assess Refsnyder’s future.
Chase Headley had a difficult month at the plate and in the field as the season approached its end. His batting performance has been up and down all year and this was a clear down and his fielding has been jittery at best. There is no-one within the organisation who will displace him however, with Brendan Ryan being used as the only backup in this period but the Yankees might need to pause and think this through before the New Year. 2016 will be his second year of a four-year contract with each year requiring $13M being handed over. Personally, I would take the risk and attend to other matters where there are moves to be made.
Didi Gregorius has been one of the major triumphs of 2015. He started the season looking like a risk and played as though he thought he was. He has ended the year with a Gold Glove nomination for his field work and a .265 batting average with 35 extra base hits. September & October showed a slight decrease in average (to .248) but a gain in power. At this moment, he looks like a lock-in for years to come and with all this on a contract which made him one of the lowest paid players on the roster, really, what is not to like?
For all of 2014 and for the first half of 2015, it looked like the Yankees had made a bad decision when they signed Carlos Beltran and then things changed. He took the lead in the team’s batting average table and became a vital part of the team’s output in every area. He doesn’t have the wheels that he had earlier in his career but then no-one expected him to have speed on the bases anymore. But all the other gears were clicking just right and he was a revelation. His batting average fell a little in the last couple of weeks of the season, meaning that he clocked in at .256 for September / October compared to .276 on the year. However, during that period he still managed six home runs and is a vital part of the team for next year which will be the final year of his contract and at which point aged 39 (40 by the beginning of the following season), he may want to weigh up his own future.
Centre and left became more of a problem as the season went on. Jacoby Ellsbury (centrefield) hit .202 from September 1st onwards whilst Brett Gardner (left field) contributed .198.. “Contributed” hardly seems the word. In addition, Gardner, in particular, seemed to have developed a hesitancy and almost fear about stealing and running the bases. It was not a pretty picture. Both players finished in the high .250s on the season but when we consider how strong they were in the first half of the season, this just becomes more and more disappointing.
Others? Well, Chris Young was a regular feature all year and as Gardner continued to struggle and Young hit well against lefties then there were always going to be more opportunities for him. His .300 in September and October was encouraging and shows that he is a good role-player. Slade Heathcott returned from injury and played a promising bit-part, giving the team 4 hits in just 8 at-bats including one very well-timed round-tripper which will mean that the Bronx faithful will remember his name. And then there was Rico Noel who seems like the ultimate novelty, a player that the Yankees don’t really trust to take an at-bat but who can steal bases at will. So he became a regular pinch-runner in September and October who was then lifted before he got his chance to garner a hit. After a dozen or so of appearances like this, he was finally left in to take a plate appearance — and wonder of wonders, collected a single. The trend couldn’t last and in his next game his at bat resulted in a soft out but he ended the season with 15 games, 2 at-bats and a .500 batting average which is likely to make him a future trivia question if nothing else.
There is a legitimate possibility that the Yankees may listen to offers for Gardner before the new season and a smaller one that they might choose to move Ellsbury instead. This would probably mean bringing in a free agent and there are a few possibilities out there. Ackley could also get some time in the outfield and there is the possibility of bringing Young back who will be a free agent once the season finishes completely. Heathcott would be a risk – he had a checkered journey through the minors to say the least. And Mason Williams who has spent a lot of the year with Heathcott on the disabled list will get the chance to show his licks in Spring Training. Noel has already been moved from the 40-man roster to make space for others and having opted out of his contract at San Diego to try and avoid spending too long in the minors, will probably try his luck elsewhere.
Rico Noel, Carlos Beltran, Jose Pirela, Dustin Ackley, Chris Young and Brian McCann all spent a few innings at DH in the last month of the season but there really has been only on name worth discussing in this position all season – that of Alex Rodriguez. Of the 151 games that A-Rod played this season, he appeared at DH in 136 of them. I’ve read one or two contributors on discussion boards who want to see him back playing regular games at 3b next season but no-one who really knows anything about the game even thinks this is an outside possibility. Indeed, the time he saw at designated hitter ground him down more and more as the season went on. In reality, his performance in the last month wasn’t far from that which is detractors expected him to give all year. The truth is that because of his remarkable performance in the first half both the Yankees and himself got a little carried away and allowed him to carry too much of the team’s weight during the second half struggles. He should have been given far more days off. His .224 batting average and 34 strikeouts tell the whole story. He was reduced to a player who was pressing way too hard so he could hit another home run to avoid having to run the bases – when the Yankees would need to lift him for a younger, more able-bodied pinch runner.
|New York Yankees – Batting – Wild card only|
There can be no question that it was the batting that was the deciding factor in the question as to whether the Yankees progressed to the American League Division Series. A team batting average of .100 left them little or no chance of scoring and even though they were able to hold Houston to 3 runs that was three too many with a batting performance like this. Of those who hit Beltran and Gregorius were likely to be the main contributors and of those who didn’t Gardner and Rodriguez probably couldn’t wait for the season to end, as they hopelessly hacked towards more Ks.
2015 was a season which started with great promise as far as the batting side of the Yankees’ performance was concerned but the batting faded the longer the season went on and the final game was probably a deservedly ignominious ending to that element of their game. On another day, it might have gone better but a team that finished the season on a batting average of .233 in the last month of the regular season were never going to go much further. And so this is how it ended.