Yankees Report Card Part 1: Position Players

Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira was one of many players that Yankees fans were frustrated with this season.

It's October baseball (even though, as I'm writing this, it technically still September), and once again, for the second year in a row, the lights will be dark in Yankee Stadium. And so, while we watch what should hopefully be an exciting offseason, it's also time to begin to look back at the last year in the Bronx, starting with the position players.

We know the general storyline for this year - despite spending more than $500M this past offseason, mostly to upgrade the offense, the Yankees could barely score this year, and in fact did worse at the plate than the 2013 squad that gave regular ABs to Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix, and Vernon Wells. But this year, who are the culprits?  [NOTE - all stats from baseball-reference and FanGraphs; WAR stats are differentiated, with letter corresponding to site; Grades are based relative to their expected contribution coming into the season]

Brian McCann, C (.232/.286/.406, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 1.8 bWAR, 2.3 fWAR, 92 wRC+)

This is not what the Yankees paid big bucks for; not at all.  McCann seemed overmatched for much of the season, and besides the occasional HR, he simply did not produce.  However, nothing but good - no, great - things have been said about him by the pitching staff, and as the great pitching this year showed, whatever he's doing, it worked. By season's end, he seemed to start getting into a groove offensively, and if he can carry his late-season production into 2015, the Yankees will effectively gain a solid middle-of-the-order bat.  Beyond, that, many believe his pinch-running for Jeter in the Captain's last game was a passing of the torch.....is it?  We'll see next year.


Francisco Cervelli, C/1B (.301/.370/.432, 146 AB, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 1.1 bWAR, 1.3 fWAR, 128 wRC+)

If Cervelli is healthy, not only is he arguably the best backup catcher in baseball, he's a solid starter.  Big question....IF he's healthy, because he never seems to be.

Still, he proved once again this season why he's worth sticking around - he's willing and able to play around the diamond when called upon, and while not a power hitter, he gets on base quite a bit.

Grade: B+

Mark Teixeira, 1B (.216/.313/.398, 22 HR, 62 RBI, 1.0 bWAR, 0.8 fWAR, 100 wRC+)

There's not a whole lot to say - Teixeira was not very good this season.  Clearly the wrist was still bothering him, as he consistently was forced to receive cortisone shots just to stay on the field - and aside from a few stretches in the first half where he hit HR like they grew on trees, he was less than worthless at the plate.  Expect this to continue if he either does not start going the other way or rediscover his power stroke from 2012 - and given his age, I wouldn't count on the latter.

Grade: D

Brian Roberts, 2B (.237/.300/.398, 5 RBI, 21 RBI, 7 SB, 1.5 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR, 84 wRC+)

In theory, Brian Roberts could have been one of the best hitters on this team; he had speed, he put the ball in play at a relatively high rate, and he had one of the highest hard-hit-ball rates in the league.  But eventually the Yankees could not wait around for him to start producing, leading to his release back at the trade deadline, after the acquisition of Stephen Drew.

Brian, you had a great career on the Orioles, and it was always exciting to see you play in your prime.  But unfortunately, your days as a baseball player are over.

Grade: D

Stephen Drew, 2B/SS (.150/.219/.271, 3 HR, 15 RBI, -0.6 bWAR, -1.3 fWAR, 32 wRC+)

Can you believe this guy was looking for a big contract this past winter?  Granted, surely his lack of spring training didn't help, but still, this is among the worst offensive performances of an everyday player I have seen.  Seriously, this is not pitcher-bad, this is worse.  The good news?  If the Yankees wanted to keep him to play SS next season, he's going to be cheap, and surely, he can't be this bad again....

Grade: On a scale from 0 to Pablo Sanchez in Backyard Baseball, this season was the square root of negative one.

(Bonus points if you get the joke)

Derek Jeter, SS (.256/.304/.313, 4 HR, 50 RBI, 10 SB, 0.2 bWAR, -0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+)

We will miss Jeter.  We won't miss his production at SS; virtually anybody on the free agent market is an upgrade.  Still, he was one of the team's most consistent players for most of the season, and if he could get to the ball, he almost guaranteed an out, so it could be worse.

Grade: C-/D+

Brendan Ryan, IF

He was not signed to hit.  He didn't hit, to the point that it wasn't even worth looking up.   Proof?  When the Yankees sent out the "I Don't Care" lineup against Boston this Friday, which included Cervelli as the power-hitting 1B and rookie Jose Pirela as the leadoff man, he was batting seventh.

Grade....in all honesty, is it fair to give him one?

Yangervis Solarte, 3B (.254/.337/.381, 6 HR, 31 RBI,1.0 bWAR, 1.1 fWAR, 104 wRC+)

For the first six weeks of the season, nobody on this team hit better than Yangervis Solarte.  He did it all - he played solid defense, he got on base, he drove in runs, he hit HRs.  In truth, his April was why this team was in a position to trade him for Chase Headley at the trade deadline.  And if anyone's interested...he did solid in San Diego; not great, but solid.  I wish him the best of luck, and hope he has a long and prosperous career.

Grade: B for performance, A+ for the excitement he brought the fanbase

Chase Headley, 3B/1B (.262/.371/.398, 6 HR, 17 RBI in 58 G, 2.1 bWAR, 2.8 fWAR, 121 wRC+)

His stats are a little misleading; if he weren't for the atrocious lineup around him, Headley would have quite a few more RBIs.  He simply wasn't on base all that often with RISP.  He brought excellent defense at the hot corner, proved he could serve as a competent backup to Teixeira at first, and hit enough to show that he is definitely one of the top free agent 3B this winter.  Chase wasn't brought on to be an All-Star, he was brought on to be a solid and consistent player, and he was.  The Yankees offense was horrible, but don't blame Headley.

And remember...he sure had quite an entrance into Yankee lore.

Grade: B

Kelly Johnson, 3B/1B (.219/.304/.373, 6 HR, 22 RBI in 77 G, 0.7 bWAR, 0.7 fWAR, 91 wRC+)

Not gonna lie, in my opinion Johnson was a huge disappointment.  I looked at his stats over the last few years - 16 HRs annually, whether in Toronto or Tampa Bay or wherever - and drooled at what he could do in Yankee Stadium, even at the bottom of the order.  And instead we got...this.  While it's true that he might have been distracted from having to handle two new positions, one of which he played only because of Teixeira's hamstring injury early in the season, it was still not enough on this offensively-starved team, which is why he has the distinction of being the only player in baseball to be traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox, and then traded to the Orioles barely a month later.  And we got Stephen Drew out of the deal, which we can and should hold against him.

Grade: D+

Brett Gardner, LF (.256/.327/.422, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 21 SB, 4.0 bWAR, 3.2 fWAR, 110 wRC+)

That batting average is deceiving, and the result of a poor August - at the trade deadline, Gardner had a solid .270 average.  His power numbers were surprisingly high this year, which is why he ended the season as the #3 guy, although his stolen base totals have suffered - he had a grand total of 6 after the All-Star Break.  Still, although a little more aggressiveness would have been nice, he was one of the team's leading hitters this season no matter how you look at it, and his offseason contract extension is already looking like a steal.  Now if only he stole more often.

Hahahahaha.....OK, I'll show myself out.  Grade: A-

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (.271/.328/.419, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 39 SB, 3.3 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR, 107 wRC+)

Again....he was almost exactly like Gardner this year.  Miscast in the #3 hole much of the season, he drove in a lot of runs (well, relatively speaking), stole a lot of bases, utilized the short porch in Yankee Stadium to increase his HR totals, and played his usual great defense (despite what your fancy sabermetrics say...they do not take into account the reduced amount of range he has to cover, which thus shows up as a bad year based on the stats).  While we won't know for sure if his contract will be worth it, for now at least, he's doing exactly what he has to - get on base, and run.

Grade: A

Carlos Beltran, DH/RF (.233/.301/.402, 15 HR, 49 RBI, -0.2 bWAR , -0.5 fWAR, 95 wRC+)

Like Tex, there's not much to say.  He just wasn't all that good, although he was hampered all season by an elbow injury (which, I believe, he suffered wen he fell over the concrete wall two weeks into the season), which limited his ability to play the field.  While it remains to be seen how much an impact the elbow surgery he just had will have, but when we look at this season, all we can say is that aside from a few hot streaks, he was rather worthless.  Still, I'm rather impressed with his 3 SB, considering how much damage his knees have had over the years.

Grade: D

Ichiro Suzuki, RF (.284/.324/.340, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 15 SB, 1.0 bWAR, 0.4 fWAR, 86 wRC+)

Ichiro was not supposed to play as much as he did.  When he was a 4th OF and had regular rest, he was among the league's best hitters when he played.  But when forced into daily service due to Beltran's injury and Soriano's general ineffectiveness, he tapered off due to fatigue.  He got on base at a decent clip though, which was useful, and when he chose his spots, he can still steal bases with the best of them.  And even at age 40, Ichiro is still one of the best defenders in the league.

Grade: B-

Martin Prado, 2B/3B/LF/RF (.316/.336/.541, 7 HR, 16 RBI in 37 G, 2.1 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR, 146 wRC+)

When Prado had the emergency appendectomy two weeks ago, he was the hottest hitter on the team; ever since the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline for essentially nothing, all he has done is hit, and play superb defense all around the diamond.  He did everything Girardi asked of him, and then some, and if he picks up where he left off - heck, if he picks up half where he left off - next season, then he will arguably the biggest asset in the Yankees' lineup.

Grade: A

Chris Young, LF/RF (.282/.354/.521, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 23 G, 0.9 bWAR, 1.0 fWAR, 146 wRC+)

When he started playing regularly due to injuries, many Yankees fans thought he was in it for garbage time, but he nearly-singlehandedly kept the Yankees in the wild card hunt all the way to the end.  There is a very good ballplayer in there somewhere, and for a short time, it surfaced.  He very well might get some attention this winter, and deservedly so, despite his terrible run with the Mets.

Grade: A

Zelous Wheeler, Eury Perez, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine, Jose Pirela

Honestly, we don't have enough on these guys to make a true judgement.......so........yea.  Some of these guys might be fighting for roster spots in spring training, others might become trade chips this winter.  Time will tell.

Alfonso Soriano, RF

Oh, don't make me remember the horror!  He looked clueless at the plate this year, and every time he hit the ball, it honestly seemed like an accident.  He had a good career, and a great run at the end of last year, but he is more than done now.

And there you have it - the 2014 New York Yankees offense.  Please, aside from Jeter, refrain from taking pictures; trust me, you don't really want to remember this terrible, terrible, terrible team....

An era ends in NY, but there is no reason for sadness

This is it, boys.  Never again, with the exception of Old Timers' Days, will Derek Jeter don Yankees pinstripes.  Never again will we see #2 jog out to shortstop.  Never again will Bob Sheppard's voice ring through Yankee Stadium during a game.  Never again will we see the Captain walk off the field after a Yankees win to Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.  Never again will any Yankee from the dynasty of the '90s add another ring to their collection, at least as a player.  Never again will a member of the Core Four play baseball in the Bronx.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

So much of this season has been filled with sad good-byes.  Sad, because everything that I mentioned earlier, we won't see it ever again.  One of the greatest players in baseball history, the face of the sport for many years, will no longer play the game.  To many of us, who literally have not seen baseball without this man, it is quite literally a piece of our childhood being ripped from us - it hurts, a lot.  Our entire lives, this Yankee great has been making the impossible look easy, so many times in fact that a top-10 list of his plays does not even come close to telling the story of his career.

But we shouldn't be sad that it's over, bur rather happy that it happened, and that we were here to be a part of such a great career.  We may never see another superstar like him, who was truly never the best player in the league, but was one of the league's most consistent players for almost twenty years.  And nobody ever matched his passion, or even came close; whether the first game of the season or Game 7 of the World Series, Jeter put 110% into his play.  His postseason statistics are unmatched, and there is nobody else anybody would rather have up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and down by a run in the World Series.  In twenty years, he put together a highlight reel for the ages, a reel which he added to even at the end, with his walk-off single to end his last home game.  And he did all this in the bright lights of New York, and with class, even going so far to wish the Orioles good luck in the playoffs on the night that was supposed to be all about him.

We will never again see a player like Derek Jeter.  Tonight was a bittersweet night in the Bronx, for Yankees fans throughout the world, and for baseball.  But that doesn't mean we should be sad.

Why the Yankees need Jon Lester

Jon Lester may not be the missing piece for the Yankees, but he should be the first move in the Yankees' offseason plans.

So as the season winds down and the Yankees expect to spend another October in silence (but, hey, there's still a chance!), it's time to turn our attention to next season - particularly, how the Yankees can improve this team which really should have been eliminated from playoff contention about three weeks ago.

And, paradoxically, the best way for the offense-starved team to improve over the offseason begins by upgrading their already-elite rotation.

Let's start by listing the list of potential holes this team has next season - 2B, SS, 3B, RF, and a legitimate backup 1B, all of which is complicated by the need to rotate Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez as the DH.  Filling these holes is rather complicated - they have Robert Refsnyder in AAA who can play 2B, and Prado can play all these positions but SS, but the team, honestly, needs more than this.  They could acquire Pablo Sandoval or re-sign Chase Headley to play 3B, or pick up JJ Hardy or the Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, or bank on Alex Rios having a bounceback season once healthy, or....or....or...

Problem is, none of these options do not look like they could fix this team on their own, unless Refsnyder has a Rookie-of-the-Year-level season or Prado becomes a superstar.  The team still needs a legitimate backup at 1B, and in all honesty, having this team has injury risks at pretty much every position on the diamond.  But rebuilding this team in a short time can happen, and it begins on the mound.

Right now, the Yankees have starting pitching aplenty: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Shane Greene, and David Phelps, with the (slight) possibility of Hiroki Kuroda returning and the possibility of re-signing Brandon McCarthy.  But first of all, keep in mind the injury risks - Nova is returning from Tommy John surgery, Tanaka will eternally be a risk for it, Pineda is just an injury-risk, period, and even if Sabathia is healthy, I'm not sure he will be all that effective anyway.  Bringing in help would definitely help reinforce this injury risk, and the best choice on the market is Jon Lester.

Think about it - Lester is a perfect fit for New York.  A left-handed pitcher in Yankee Stadium, who has dominated in October and in the AL East as well, who doesn't wilt under pressure.  If the rotation is fully healthy, he would be an ace among aces - with Tanaka and Pineda - and would provide the Yankees with a front three that would rival the Phillies "super rotation" of the late '00s and the Detroit and Tampa Bay rotations of recent years.  It would take pressure off of Ivan Nova and Shane Greene, and McCarthy if he is re-signed, and would provide depth for when the injury bug inevitably strikes.

Furthermore, Lester would give the front office some flexibility to improve the offense.  Make no mistake, the Yankees' farm system does not exactly include much in the way of trade bait - but a guy such as David Phelps has value, especially for a team looking for a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Theoretically, Cashman could operate from a position of strength and build a package around, for example, David Phelps and Gary Sanchez to swing a deal for a bat.  By reinforcing his team's strength, Cashman could gain some leverage to improve the team elsewhere. 

Despite the above-.500 record, this team lacks talent; barring major bounceback seasons from same aging players, that is unlikely to change unless Cashman makes some moves.  And to do so, he needs to stock up on something - the currency of Major League Baseball, no matter how he can get it.


Prospect Profile: NYY UT Jose Pirela

After discussing Yankees top infield prospect Robert Refsnyder last week, it's time to turn our attention to another infield prospect and now major league utilityman Jose Pirela.

Once Martin Prado's season ended thanks to an emergency appendectomy earlier this week, the Yankees promoted the 24-year-old Pirela, who, despite being overshadowed by his teammate and fellow second baseman Robert Refsnyder, put together a very fine season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  In 581 plate appearances, he put together a .305/.351/.441 line with 42 XBH (including 10 HR), 60 RBI, and 15 steals (caught 7 times), which amounts to a wRC+ of a very respectable 117.

Now, given the Yankees' 2B troubles for much of this season (the position Pirela has most commonly played) as well as Pirela's defensive ability at multiple positions - he has played 1B, 2B, SS, LF, and RF, and has played each like a natural - many have wondered by he didn't get the call to the Bronx earlier this season.  Well, here's why: he has never put together two back-to-back solid seasons, which has done nothing to improve his stock as a "non-prospect" (i.e., nobody expects him to make a significant contribution at the MLB level).  He's followed a tendency - he does well at one level, gets himself promoted, then appears overmatched; the next season, he starts hitting like he did in the lower level the year prior, gets promoted again, and then stops hitting.  This was his first season at one level, and he maintained the same level of performance he began recent seasons at.

Now, that begs the question - how will he respond at the Major League level?  As we've seen, there is a very big difference between AAA and the majors, a difference much bigger than the difference between any two minor league levels.  I see very two real possibilities with him; he might become a quadruple-A type of player, too good for AAA, but without the skills necessary to perform at the big league level.  On the other hand, however, if he can hit well in these final two weeks of the season - assuming, of course, he finds himself actually in a game - and can perform next spring training, he might find a spot on the team as a utility player, the ultimate backup.

What's his ceiling? Well, you can never be sure - Robinson Cano is one of the league's biggest stars, and he was much in the same boat as Pirela, a "non-prospect."  You'll never be certain unless he plays.  But ultimately, if he becomes a serviceable major leaguer, he'll find himself a job in the same vein of Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado, albeit with relatively little power.

But for the 2015 Yankees?  That will definitely be a team with a tendency for injuries - Teixeira, A-Rod, and Beltran alone will likely all end up on the DL - which means that Pirela's versatility may definitely come in handy.

A Videogame Study Part 3: It's Personal

Madden 15 lets players take a personal interest in all aspects of their team's season, from the draft to training camp to gametime on Sundays.

About a week and a half ago I posted an article titled "A Videogame Study - Why is Madden So Popular?" in which I described my current blogging undertaking: in addition to my usual baseball analysis, I decided that I will break down the Madden videogame franchise, in an effort to find out why it has been so popular for so long, and then theorizing how such practices could be used to create a comparable baseball game.

Well, in that article, I asked you to vote on your favorite feature in Madden, and the results are in - 44% of responders say that they prefer, above all other things, to play the Connected Careers Franchise mode as an NFL Head Coach or Owner.  And so, that is what we will talk about today - what makes this mode so good?

Now, make no mistake, any sort of Franchise mode will gain instant popularity; even casual players do at least one franchise mode with their favorite team - it's just what people do.  But in all honesty, that is often a one-and-done thing; even given the fact that random things tend to happen in these sort of modes, doing them over and over again gets predictable: continuing a franchise over multiple seasons, unless you're either not very good or using a bad team, often ends up with the player winning every game of every season on the way to (yet another) Super Bowl championship.

So why do people constantly play franchise modes instead of, say, trying to move up the online rankings?  In my mind, I think it boils down to one thing - a personal investment in the team.

When you break it down, running a football team as head coach, both in real life and in Madden, involves creating (and running) offensive and defensive schemes that make up a playbook, managing players as efficiently as possible, and developing young players to be (ideally) future stars.  It is a very hands-on affair; you have to know your players and their strengths/weaknesses.  After several years of adapting, tweaking, and occasionally overhauling, the Madden franchise has mostly gotten this down.

At its simplest, Madden Head Coach Careers work like this - you either create or become one of the league's head coaches, each of whom has a unique combination of offensive and defensive playbooks (schemes) and personality/skill traits.  Based on these attributes, you then shape your team.  While this is clearly an oversimplification of real football (in real life, the Offensive Coordinator largely determines the offensive scheme), it works for the game, and provides a lot more depth for very few changes. 

You see, once you've established a scheme on the strategic level, now on the practical level, you need personnel.  In Madden, a player's overall is not static, but instead varies depending on the scheme you run and the capacity he is utilized in that scheme.  Running an offense based on deep passes and vertical routes?  Tim Tebow is probably not your best bet.  But you're running the West Coast Offense and borrow a lot from the Wildcat?  Then Tebow is the man for you.  And not only will you know this instinctively if you watch football, the game will now change the players' overalls to help you find those players who need much easier. 

So now we've talked strategic...but where does it get personal, you might be asking?  The answer is in the day-to-day operation of the franchise.  Developing young backups in practice, following the seasons' storylines, monitoring the team's morale - the game forces you to engage with the world of the franchise, to become invested in it.  In videogames, there are fewer feelings better than when you take that young but raw QB in the draft, develop him for three seasons as the team's backup, finally hand him the keys to the offense, and ultimately lead him to win the Super Bowl.  It's a great feeling, because all the time that you spent with this team finally paid off.  After spending all that time, it's more than just a game - it's almost like another world you've created and become a part of, and to see success after years of waiting (in-game) is a grand thing.

And, arguably, the best part is that you are totally allowed to just hand over duties that you don't want to do to the computer so you're never at a disadvantage.  Want to just play some football?  Then just play games, and let the computer do the dirty work.  Want to be a coach, not just a player?  Then take advantage of the game's wide array of options.

Games like MLB 14 The Show let you act as General Manager in the franchise and manager during games, but there's little correlation between the two, and little opportunity for the player to get truly involved with the day-to-day operations of the team.

Now we get to baseball, which has not come even close to the success Madden has here.  Of course, to achieve that same level in baseball is a lot harder - there are only 16 regular season games in a football season, and even if you play every down of preseason and make it to the Super Bowl while playing in the wild card round, you've still got a max of 24 games in a season, compared to 162 in the regular season alonefor baseball.  Nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY, plays every game in The Show or in MLB 2K; anybody who says they do either has literally zero social life or is lying.  It's just too many games, too tedious, and frankly, it gets boring after a while - I'm a huge baseball fan, and I tried it once, and after 30 games I got flat-out bored and abandoned the franchise. 

So how do you generate a personal interest in a franchise where you cannot realistically play every game, where there is no true way to do a "practice" system like in football, and where player development happens in minor league games, which even the biggest fanatics do not play.  And the truth is...I have no idea.  How do you?  I have vague ideas that a more in-depth spring training and injury rehab system would help, that player and team morale is needed...but in truth, if I said anything specific would work, I would be lying.  Truly, the first step in the right direction I think would be fully fleshing out roster mechanics - 40-man rosters, qualifying offers, the inclusion of Japanese/Korean leagues and the posting system, international free agents, Rule 5 drafts.....OK, you get the point.

But in terms of the atmosphere......I'm not totally sure, which is why I don't design videogames. What I am going to do, however, is throw the question back out to you, baseball fans - how would *you* make players feel personally invested in their franchise modes?

5 *New* Reasons for Hope in the Bronx

Masahiro Tanaka's upcoming start Sunday is one of many reasons for Yankees fans to hope, even as the door closes on the 2014 season.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So, two weeks ago, I posted five reasons why Yankees fans should have hope for the month of September. These ranged from the dominant pitching, to the fact that the team largely had control of its destiny, to signs of life from the offense.

Clearly, as anybody who watches the games will tell you, there is no longer a single reason to have hope that the 2014 season could be salvaged, myself included. As the people at Pinstripe Alley so eloquently put it , Yankees fans must face their fate - for the second year in a row, October will be filled with football, and watching teams not wearing pinstripes play baseball.

That said, there's plenty of reasons for the Yankees to have some hope that this winter will be both exciting and productive, and that the 2015 team will look to be in good shape (well, at least better shape) than this year's team. Let's start off rather easy; here are 5 reasons why you can start getting pumped *now* for the 2015 season.

1. PITCHING, PITCHING, AND MORE PITCHING.  Even with all the injuries to the pitching staff this season, this has been the main area of strength for the Yankees.  If Shane Greene can build off his strong rookie campaign, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova return to form after recovering from elbow issues, and Michael Pineda stay on the field, then this rotation is already looking to be one of the best.  Re-sign Brandon McCarthy and throw in a top free agent like Jon Lester or Max Scherzer - because, honestly, the team will pursue at least one - and in theory New York might just field the best rotation in baseball next season.

2.  THE YOUNGSTERS LOOK READY TO STORM THE BRONX.  While I'm not arguing that the Yankees farm system is one of the best in baseball, the Yankees have three position players in the minors who might make an impact next season.  Infield prospect Robert Refsnyder, who thrust himself onto the scene by following up a strong 2013 with an even better 2014, could be starting in the Bronx as early as next spring, while Tyler Austin, with his wrist finally healed, could see time in the bigs if either Teixeira or Beltran goes down.  Toss in utilityman Jose Pirela, who can play literally every position on the diamond, and you might just have some impact performances by Yankees prospects next season.

3.  THE INVALIDS AND THE OLD WILL HAVE TIME TO HEAL.  The Yankees have dealt with a ton of injuries this season, including several that have not required DL time.  Both Beltran and Teixeira have been hampered with elbow and wrist problems respectively all season; once the season is over, Beltran will receive surgery and Tex will be able to rest the wrist, and both should hopefully be at 100% for spring training.

4.   GARY SANCHEZ MIGHT BRING IN AMPLE TALENT IN A TRADE.  I'm calling it now - just like Jesus Montero before him, Gary Sanchez will find himself with a different organization by next spring training.  Hopefully, he brings in just as good a haul as Michael Pineda, although that will not be easy, given Sanchez's recent struggles and apparent attitude issues.  Still, he has a good bat, and it is not out of the question that a package deal headlining him will bring major league talent to the Bronx.

5.   THE STEINBRENNERS WILL NOT LET 3 YEARS OF OCTOBER DARKNESS HAPPEN.  Even for a guy who is as skeptical of the top brass as I am, there's no denying this - missing the playoffs costs the Yankees extreme amounts of money; the organization will do whatever it can to make sure that doesn't happen three years in a row.  Expect the Yankees to be in contention for literally every free agent, and watch out for Jon Lester, Chase Headley, JJ Hardy, and power-hitting Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang, who will be posted this winter, among others.

These are indeed dark times for New York Yankees fans, the darkest times in almost twenty years.  But do not fear in the Bronx - indeed, hope - for out of the darkest nights the great light of victory shines brightest.......wow, I just sounded a lot like my theology professor....

With Mark Newman's retirement, new era in Yankees baseball to begin?

Mark Newman has been in charge of the Yankees' dysfunctional farm system for the last 15 years. Recently, he announced that he will retire at the end of the season.

News broke this week that Mark Newman, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the New York Yankees, will retire after more than 25 years in the Yankees organization.  While not often in the public spotlight, Newman has been in charge of player development in the Yankees organization for the past fifteen years, and under his leadership the heralded Yankees farm system has produced such great prospects as Andrew Brackman, Eric Duncan, John-Ford Griffin, Cito Culver, and Slade Heathcott.

OK, so maybe I'm being a little satirical here, but the point remains - the Yankees farm system has been among baseball's worst in years.  Aside from a few top relief pitchers, including current closer David Robertson and All Star set-up man Dellin Betances, the Yankees organization has developed the following players in recent years: Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Zoilo Almonte, Mark Melancon, and Tyler Clippard.  Robinson Cano is a legitimate star, Brett Gardner is a productive player, and Francisco Cervelli has become a serviceable catcher.  Everybody else....well, for the most part, if they found success at all, they did not find it until they left New York.  And although the organization is now starting to field competent players from within the organization, especially this year, such as Shane Greene and Dellin Betances, as well as a number of bright spots within the minors (e.g., Robert Refsnyder), the fact remains that for much of the past fifteen years, the Yankees have depended upon players from outside the organization to build the team.  And while that method does achieve success - see 2009 World Series championship - it does not achieve sustained success.

So what does this mean for the future of the organization?  Well, in addition to Newman's retirement - which, according to some sources, was forced by the organization - Yankees ownership plans to hold an organization-wide meeting after the season's conclusion, which will include a "total evaluation" of the player development system.  In other words - more changes are to be expected.  In addition to finding Newman's replacement outside the organization, as some sources have stated the Yankees plan to do, the team is rumored to engage in an "out with the old, in with the new" strategy, leaving the job security of literally everybody involved in player development, most of whom hired by Newman, in jeopardy.

Will this be the beginning of a new era in Yankees baseball?  Will the organization finally learn how to properly development talent beyond relief pitchers?  While we will not know for at least another few years, I can say this for sure - for the first time in forever, the sun is shining on the Yankees' farm.

A Videogame Study: The "Chess Match"

Madden players, especially when playing with friends, make extensive use of audibles, hot routes, and adaptations at the line of scrimmage, just like real NFL QBs. The same is true when on defense, especially in this year's version of the popular franchise.

Earlier this week, I announced the beginning of my latest blogging project - a study on the very popular but under-studied sports videogame industry, particularly using the Madden franchise as a case-study to explain what makes these games popular, and applying those principles to other games - especially baseball.  (NOTE: if you haven't seen it, you can check it out here)

To begin this series properly, I'd like to begin at the most basic level - individual games.  No matter what game modes are in the game, in the end they all boil down to the same thing: games.  A franchise mode involves playing over the course of a season, perhaps more; a superstar or "My Player" mode puts you into the shoes of one player during a game; an online tournament among friends involves games.

I'm going to make a rather shocking statement here: compared to most videogames, making a functioning sports game is rather easy.  Not exactly apparent, I know, but let's look at it like this - when you boil it down, what happens in sports?  The QB takes the snap and either hands the ball off or passes it; everybody has a pre-defined action that it simply executes.  Program a receiver to run a particular route, a cornerback to cover a particular receiver, and the QB to throw the ball to a receiver at random after a set amount of time.  In baseball, the pitcher picks a pitch and throws it, and the batter swings; fielders field the ball and throw it to first base.

Do either games seem fun?  Yea...not exactly.  But they function, and are recognizable as the sport.  Key word I listed above - functional.  It is easy to make a sports game where the computer is actually playing the sport; what is much harder, however, is creating an artificial intelligence (AI) that is able to play the game competently, and this is where games get good.

You get the idea.

One can argue, as I would like to here, that many sports can be boiled down to a four-dimensional chess match.  An offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator attempt to out-smart each other during the game, tailoring their game to highlight their own strengths while playing to their opponents' weaknesses.  Then, when the teams are at the line of scrimmage, these attempts to outmaneuver the opposition extends to the QB and the defensive captain, who alter the play (and sometimes even change it entirely) to counteract how the other team lines up at the line of scrimmage. 

Madden captures this experience very well when playing against the computer, allowing you to tweak the play at the line (hot routes, changing blocking schemes) or even change it entirely (calling an audible).  Defensively, you can change coverage formations, set particular players to tasks such as QB containment, blitzing, shadowing a particular receiver, or playing coverage in a particular zone.  This experience is heightened when playing with friends, as humans can devise schemes and run plays the computer cannot even conceive of, and make very extensive use of things like showing the blitz and quick audibles.  In fact, playing Madden with friends is both one of the most satisfying and intellectually-challenging activities, especially when snowed-in in a college dorm.

There are few things in sports like the pitcher-catcher battle.

Even more so than football, baseball is a chess match, and this is one of the few areas baseball games have consistently gotten right (in particular, MLB 2K13, despite its terrible reviews, arguably captured this feeling better than any other game).  When you boil America's pastime down to its core, it is merely a series of interactions between the pitcher-catcher battery and the hitter; everyone else - particularly, the fielders and runners on base - merely affects this interaction.  A pitcher has an arsenal of pitches, some better than others, which he uses to get hitters out; the hitter, meanwhile, has certain tendencies - which pitches he hits better, where he tends to hit particular pitches, how often he takes a pitch, etc.; in truth, the options are endless.  This sort of interaction is best shown with an example.  Say a pitcher is up 0-2 on a particular hitter, who looked at a fastball low and away for strike one and fooled him on a changeup for strike two.  Now, let's also say there is one out, and a speedy runner (Jacoby Ellsbury, perhaps) is on first base.  The catcher could decide the best course of action would be to waste a pitch by throwing a curveball in the dirt, in the hopes of fooling the hitter and making him swing over the ball; however, with a runner like Ellsbury on base, if the catcher mishandles the pitch, he will easily take second and put himself in scoring position.  He also might anticipate the fact that the hitter is expecting him to waste a pitch and might get him on a backdoor slider.  Or he might...

I don't want to keep going on this; you get the idea.  The point is, everything in the game - how particular pitches are working on a particular night, what runners are on base, the outcome of the previous AB of this hitter, the score....everything factors into every particular pitch.  Videogames, surprisingly, have captured this feeling pretty well.  In 2K, the results of every AB slightly influenced the overall stats of the pitcher's pitches over the course of a game, so that if, for example, opposing hitters are mashing the fastball but are getting fooled by the 12-6 curve, it will be reflected in the game, and the pitcher will have to adapt.  If the pitcher gets in a jam, it becomes harder to locate his pitches, but replacing the pitcher resets this effect, based on the skills of the reliever.  Again, just like in Madden, the game becomes a series of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, within ABs and with calling in players from the bench and the bullpen, one that developers have captured fairly well, and which, as always, becomes even more engaging when playing with friends.

So...the point?  In terms of videogame design, game developers have already captured the core experiences within games fairly well, which is good, because before all the bells and whistles of various game modes, these games are virtual sporting events where everybody can play at a professional level on their XBoxes and Playstations.  What good would a sports game that completely botched the actual gameplay be?

What is amazing to note, however, is just truly how much of a mind game these sports can be.  Scouting reports, offensive schemes, hitters' splits, pitchers' tendencies...no matter how physical these games are, the truly great ones are the ones who put thought, and not just brute force, into their game.  Truly, as one great man put it, any sport "is 90% mental; the other half is physical."

Prospect Profile: NYY 2B Robert Refsnyder

Yankees infield prospect Robert Refsnyder might just be the first in a series of players within the Yankees organization expected to make an impact in the next few years. Image from riveraveblues.com

Not only would it be a stretch to call the Yankees' organization stacked, it would be a flat-out lie. But that does not mean the organization is bare, and in fact over the next few weeks, I'm going to profile a few players that might make an impact at the major league level in the next few years.

We're going to start with 23-year-old Robert Refsnyder. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft (187th overall), Refsnyder has thrust himself into the 2015 big league picture with a breakout 2013 campaign that he followed up with an even bigger 2014. Let's take a look at his stat line for the past two seasons:








2013 A (13 G)








2013 A+ (117 G)








2014 AA (60 G)








2014 AAA (77 G)








Despite playing at four different levels the past two seasons, Refsnyder has remained largely constant - he gets on base, hits a respectable amount of HR (but does not rely on them), and has in-the-gap-style power.  Additionally, he has patience, posting a respectable .61 BB/K ratio - which is not terrible.  In a lot of ways, the numbers he posts reminds me a lot of Manny Machado and Chase Headley (minus his monster 2012).  While they can exhibit power, none of them are defined by it, and their main power comes in extra-base hits.

Actually, in a lot of ways, he somewhat resembles an early Robinson Cano.  Although Cano was known throughout the league as a power hitter the last few years, his first few years in pinstripes were defined by high batting averages.  Furthermore, the now-Gold Glove winner originally was subpar defensively, as Refsnyder is now; in fact, his defense was cited as one of the reasons he is not yet in the Bronx, despite the team's obvious need at 2B this season.

Scouting reports almost universally state that Refsnyder is too good for minor league pitching, and should seriously contend for the second base job in spring training next season.  Even if he does not break camp with the big club next spring, expect to find him there at some point relatively early in the season, because you simply cannot keep a bat as good as his in the minors all that long.  So, Yankees fans, while one homegrown 2B may have departed his past offseason, next season may bring the next generation.