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:

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

ISO


wRC+

2013 A (13 G)

.370

.452

.481

0

9

.111

173

2013 A+ (117 G)

.283

.408

.404

6

51

.121

140

2014 AA (60 G)

.342

.385

.548

6

30

.206

159

2014 AAA (77 G)

.300

.389

.456

8

33

.157

137

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.

NYG: Playcalling the Biggest Problem

Eli Manning might be the guy blamed by most for the Giants' offensive woes, but primarily at fault is the playcalling of the coaching staff, led by new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody who follows RiverAveU knows that I normally do not write about anything not related to baseball.  And that is correct, for the most part.  But, in addition to baseball, I also do watch football, and in particular the New York Giants, and there's something about this past week that I want to address.

You've all heard the narrative about the Giants offense this past weekend - the O-line was terrible, Manning and his receivers were not on the same page, the Lions' D-line stopped the run, the receivers couldn't catch anything, Manning has PTSD from last season's hits, the receivers can't catch the ball.  Rather detailed, and pretty much exactly describes what happened on Sunday.  For the most part, this is why the Giants offense played terribly.  Except it's not.

Anybody who follows football knows that new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo instituted a new offensive scheme this year, modeled after the West Coast Offense.  In theory, this means that the offense will depend screen passes, short-yardage gains, and a fast-paced tempo; receivers need to be on point with their routes and make plays after the catch, the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball quickly and preferably be mobile, and tight ends need to be both blockers and playmakers.


Theory; that's all fine and dandy.  Theory doesn't win football games.  Strictly speaking, the Giants do not work at all with the WCO - Eli is not a mobile QB, the TEs are so mediocre I don't even know their names, and beyond Victor Cruz, there are no truly talented receivers.

Theory; that's all fine and dandy.  Theory doesn't win football games.  Strictly speaking, the Giants do not work at all with the WCO - Eli is not a mobile QB, the TEs are so mediocre I don't even know their names, and beyond Victor Cruz, there are no truly talented receivers.  The only thing the Giants have that the WCO utilizes - and not really utilize, more like makes up for - is a weak offensive line.

But you're taking it the wrong way.  Don't think of the WCO as a playbook, think of it as an ideology.  An uptempo offense.  Short-yardage but low-risk plays. 

So adapt it. Take the snap, drop three steps, and throw. Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan both operate best in the slot? Run plays where you get both of them up the middle.  Weak TEs?  Have them focus on blocking.  Reuben Randle unable to gain yards after the catch?  Hit him on a post pattern ten yards downfield, not on a bubble screen.  Then, when you catch them in dime formation, pound the ball up the middle, and operate on the no-huddle offense to keep the mismatch.  On the flip side, have they stacked the box and you have three receivers and one back?  Hit the back with a screen.  It's a chess match; use the WCO's strengths.

What did the Giants not do?  Exactly that.  Far, far too often, the offense resembled Gilbride's disaster last season; I mean, the first play of the game was a run to the left, which is exactly how most drives last year began.  The Lions had a poor secondary and a strong run defense, so what did we do?  We tried to run the ball.  Well, newflash - playing into your opponent's strength does not work, has never worked, and will probably not work when you try it again.

But you know what might?  The HB Screen, which I do not recall ever seeing called.  A series of short passes up the middle, to the outside - mix it up - behind the blitz.  The pass rush always in your face?  So call plays that get rid of the ball before the defense has time to get through. 

Despite the ugliness of the loss, there are plenty of reasons for Giants' fans to have hope for this season.  Jason Pierre-Paul looked more like the beast he was his rookie year than he has since then (although he had literally zero help), Jon Beason was healthy, Prince Amukamara was strong in coverage, and there were a few plays where the offense seemed to click.  In fact, if the receivers can learn to actually catch the football, the passing game would not have looked so bad.

But none of that matters if McAdoo cannot learn how to call plays.

A Videogame Study - Why is Madden So Popular?

Madden 15 is the latest of EA Sports's popular Madden franchise.

Raise your hand if you've played a game of Madden NFL at some point this past year.

If your hand is not raised and you're in middle school, high school, or college, I'm calling your bluff - you're probably lying.  Don't be ashamed, embrace it.  Everybody plays Madden, at least to some degree.

Why?

Consistently, Madden games have been among the most popular on all video game consoles, regardless of whether or not reviewers (and in fact, even the players) considered the game a "good game." No matter what, throughout America, people of all ages, backgrounds, and console allegiance lined up in GameStops and Best Buys to purchase the game on release day.

Again - why? What is it about Madden games that make them so popular? Football fans play it. Gamers play it. Professional athletes - whether or not they play football - play Madden. And consistently, too. Whether it's college dorm tournaments on snowy February days, or online Connected Career franchises with friends, or the personal indulgence of placing yourself on an NFL roster in the Connected Career's "Superstar Mode" - if Madden is played once, it's played a million times.

And no other videogame is like that, in truth. While FIFA and NBA 2K come close - very close, in fact - there still isn't the universal appeal that Madden provides. I've seen people playing Madden religiously who know nothing about real football, but I've never seen the same thing about FIFA and NBA 2K; their fanbases are growing, but they just haven't reached that critical level yet, and might never will.

But, you know what mainstream sport has not seen a videogame even remotely like this? Baseball. Yes, that is right, America's pasttime does not have a truly universal videogame - and make no mistake, Sony's MLB The Show does not even come close; if it did, millions would buy the PS4 just to play it, and that does not happen (as evidenced by the fact that, despite the XBox One's greater price, I have seen 3 in my dorm, but only 1 PS4).

With the recent release of Madden 15 and the baseball pennant race heating up for the final month, I begin to think - where have baseball videogame developers failed where other sports have succeeded? Neither MLB The Show, even with its current monopoly, nor the now-defunct MLB 2K, have been able to put together games that are able to unite complex gameplay both with ease of use and mass popularity the same way Madden has been able to - or come even remotely close.

And so for the next few weeks, amidst the pennant run and the beginning of the football season, I'm going to engage in a case study - and I need your help.  Together, we're going to break down Madden, find out what, at its heart, the game does to turn ordinary people into football superstars, figure out ways to apply it to baseball and other sports, and - maybe, just maybe - learn a few things about baseball and football in the process.



5 Reasons for Hope in the Bronx

Let's be blunt - things are not exactly well in the Bronx.  When you put together a team with a payroll upwards of $200M, you expect a better record than 72-66, to not be 9.5 games out of the division and 4 out of the wild card.  This team has, honestly, been underachieving.  The team's playoff odds have been falling consistently, and can never seem to find a groove.

That said, all is not lost in the Bronx.  Here are five reasons why Yankees fans can keep the faith and have hope that, come September, they will be ready to play at least Game 163:

1. The pitching is good, and is about to get better. Despite losing 4/5 of the starting rotation and one of the primary replacements for massive chunks of the season, the starting pitching has combined with a lights-out 'pen to keep this team afloat.  Both Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano figured things out upon arrival in the Bronx, and Shane Greene has been a miracle find from the minors.  Girardi has two lights-out relievers, Dellin Betances and David Robertson, who head one of the league's best and most consistent bullpens.  Coupled with the impending returns of David Phelps and (more importantly) Masahiro Tanaka, and this strength is about to get even stronger.

2. The Yankees play the AL EastAside from one series against the Royals this weekend, the Yankees close out the season playing exclusively their fellow AL East rivals.  Although the Yankees have struggled within the division this season, going 26-29, if there is any division the team can put together a good stretch against, it is probably the weak AL East.  This schedule also has the added benefit of, if they somehow manage to win 6 or 7 of their games against the Orioles, putting them right back into the division race (consequently, the Yankees need to win those games anyway to stay in the wild card hunt, so really, the must-win games just have an added benefit).

3. The offense is showing signs of life.  Ellsbury had a monster week, earning him the honor of AL Player of the Week.  Gardner's and Prado's bats have been coming around, as has Chase Headley (as evidenced by tonight's game-winning HR).  Since returning from the DL, McCann has finally put together a string of good ABs.  If Beltran and Teixeira can turn things around, this team finally could have their offense at full-strength for the first time all season, and just in time, too.

4. This is a veteran team.  The Yankees always hear that they're an old team - and that is absolutely right.  Sometimes, it hurts them.  But sometimes, a little experience doesn't hurt, especially down the stretch.  This team has not yet given up, despite the long odds of making the playoffs.  Hey, crazier Septembers have happened; all this team needs to do is get hot at the right time.  Just remember - a wise man once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

5. There are plenty of reasons to hope for next yearEven if this team doesn't make the playoffs, so what?  After two dull Octobers in the Bronx, Cashman will almost certainly open the team's checkbook to pick up at least one of the big fish on the free agent market.  Don't be surprised if Cash pulls another mini-blockbuster, trading top prospect Gary Sanchez for ready-now talent.  Additionally, several players are due for positive regression, and a few minor leaguers stand ready in the wings, waiting for their shot - Robert Refsnyder, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin....just to name a few.  Sure, most of these guys are not expected to be stars....then again, neither were Chien-Ming Wang or Robinson Cano, either; when it comes to prospects, you may never know when you hit the jackpot - you just have to play.

Is Hal Steinbrenner ruining the Yankees?

image from newday.com

The last two seasons for Yankees fans have been rather...interesting.  First, we had 2013's injury extravaganza, with the starting catcher, first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, backup third baseman, and left fielder all injured for major parts of the season; yet despite players like Chris Stewart and Vernon Wells getting regular playing time, the team was still in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season.  Then there is this season, with 5 starting pitchers sitting on the DL and the supposedly-revamped offense hitting even worse than last season's.

To put it bluntly, this team has been overachieving mediocrity for the past two seasons, which begs the question: are Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi doing something wrong?

I'd like to redirect the question, however.  Is Hal Steinbrenner to blame?

Say what you want about his father George, the Boss only cared about one thing - winning.  If he felt he needed to fire managers, he fired managers; if there was a big bat on the free agent market that he wanted, then he would go to the ends of the earth to make sure that player was wearing pinstripes the following season.  In the Evil Empire (honestly, it's surprising it took so long for the Yankees to receive that name), he was not just the Emperor, he was Emperor, Darth Vader, and Grand Moff Tarkin.  Baseball was not just his game, it was his life.

And then there is Hal, who has been in control of the team's day-to-day activities since November 2008, and has been part of the decision-making process since even before then.  He has presided over three division titles, four playoff appearances, and the 2009 World Series champions; but in recent years, the team has not had been of the same quality as it has been, and for several reasons.

Everyone who follows the Yankees even remotely knew that going into this past offseason, Hal Steinbrenner had demanded that the team keep to a budget of $189M, the luxury tax limit; although that seems like an incredibly large budget for most teams, when you factor in the fact that the Yankees had massive salaries like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez already on the books, that is actually fairly limiting, forcing the Yankees to fill out most of their roster with essentially the same budget as the Astros and Cubs, but without the strong farm system to make it possible.  His logic, in theory, makes sense - be budget-minded for one season to reset the luxury tax limits, then splurge the following offseason.  But it is the New York Yankees; the team prints money, and that statement comes from a Yankees fan; everything in the stadium is absurdly expensive, tickets are off-the-charts costly, and it sells merchandise throughout the world.  Unless they know something we don't, then they really should not be fretting over a few million dollars, which is ultimately what the luxury tax limit would save them.

Just like his father George, he has taken a very active (albeit less obvious) role in the formation of the team, often overriding Brian Cashman.  He was the one who gave Ichiro the two-year contract.  He's the one who insisted on the trade for Alfonso Soriano last season.  He's the one who signed Rafael Soriano.  He's the one who....well, you get the idea.  Hal has often ignored Brian Cashman's judgment and has done what he wanted, even if it made little-to-no baseball sense.  Signing Ichiro for one year was questionable, but two was just absurd; but it gave the team the Japanese star - and thus the Japanese market - it had lacked since Hideki Matsui's departure.  While trading for Alfonso Soriano was brilliant short-term, it hurt the team this season and forced them to give up a pitching prospect that Cashman wanted to keep; although I feel Cash is a bit too clingy with his pitching prospects, the logic here was sound: Soriano was up there in age and a one-trick pony.  Once his bat speed diminished and he could not mash the ball, he was useless.  But at the time, it reinvigorated the fanbase for the playoff race, and helped draw people to the stadium.  It brought in revenue.

That's how Steinbrenner runs this team - the bottom line.

While I often disagree with what Cashman does, in general I consider him an amazing GM; through the years, he has made great signings and trades, such as Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Lyle Overbay, and this year's trio of Headley, Prado, and McCarthy.  Generally speaking, he has a good read on prospects; he liked Gardner and Cervelli even before they were considered starter-quality players, and now Gardner is ranked among the league's top underrated players and Cervelli would start in many organizations.  He traded Jesus Montero when many still believed he would be a serviceable catcher.  Every year, he makes the right moves during the season to strengthen the team, and as a friend of mine put it, "he and Theo Epstein (when he was Boston's GM) would engage in a chess match when the two teams dominated the division."  He makes the most of what he has, and in truth, his player development and amateur scouting colleagues are well below-average, on the whole.  Cashman gets a lot of blame when things go wrong, but oftentimes, he's the one keeping the team afloat, especially the last two seasons.

Girardi is another person often the target of criticism, but again, he is one of the team's unsung heroes.  Since 2008, he has seen the bullpen through a number of transitions but has always kept it among the team's major strengths.  With minor issues (such as his insistence on batting Jeter second all through the season and giving Vernon Wells ABs even with Soriano and Granderson on the roster), he has maximized his team in a way few other managers do.  When the time is right, he makes the difficult and controversial decisions, such as pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 ALDS.  If it were not for him, the Yankees would not still be in the playoff hunt this season.

And yet however interesting this season has been, a lot of these issues could have been avoided if Hal Steinbrenner had taken a step back.  Baseball-wise, there were plenty other alternatives to Ichiro, almost all of which would have been better; but none commanded overseas markets like he did.  Alfonso Soriano brought a "hero's return" storyline that generated excitement down the stretch last season, but dubious from a baseball perspective; it was fortunate that he hit like he did down the stretch last season.  And a plethora of other situations would not have happened had the team not insisted on the $189M goal for multiple seasons.  We would be in a very different boat, and arguably a much better one.

That is not to say that the Yankees are totally down on their luck, exactly.  The farm system, although small, looks promising.  The pitching staff, for the first time in many years, looks like a major strength going into the offseason, with plenty of possibility for improvement this offseason.  The team has plenty of flexibility to improve the roster going into the offseason, and could see major developments from multiple prospects as soon as next season.  But the downward trend is beginning, and if Hal Steinbrenner does not back off his bottom-line-above-all policy, then in a few years, baseball fans across the world just might need to find a new worst enemy as they watch the Evil Empire slowly collapse.

Yankees' Pitching Staff Needs Reinforcements

Yankees fans have been hearing all year that this year's star-filled lineup has been hitting significantly worse than last year's rag-tag team which gave regular ABs to Jayson Nix and Chris Stewart.  And although the bats need to start hitting for this team to consistently win, there is, in my opinion, one very concrete issue that needs fixing - the pitching.

I know it seems blasphemous - despite injuries to 4/5 of the starting rotation, the pitching staff has been one of the main reasons this team is still in the pennant race at this point.  It's not talent I'm concerned about - it's fatigue.

Last year, this team was in much the same boat - weak lineup, consistent pitching staff, strong bullpen.  And although the lineup was reinvigorated by reinforcements, namely Alfonso Soriano and Curtis Granderson, both the rotation and 'pen slipped throughout September, especially the bullpen.  The main culprit?  Fatigue.  Just like last year, the starters have been unable to go deep into games on a consistent basis, refusing to give the relievers a rest, and with so many close games, Girardi was forced to lean on his top arms - Robertson, Logan, and Rivera.  With the exception of Mo, his top arms failed him more and more as the month progressed, and in many ways, it was a miracle that their arms didn't fall off.

Not only can that exact scenario happen again, it already is.  Robertson, Warren, and Kelley have not been as sharp of late, and other bullpen options Esmil Rogers, David Huff, and Rich Hill don't exactly inspire confidence.  Capuano and Kuroda cannot seem to get out of the 6th more often than not, Shane Greene is still, after all, just a rookie, Kuroda's arm failed him down the stretch last season and thus needs to be monitored, and Pineda just returned for the first time since April.  The bullpen needs a breather, and the pitching staff needs fresh arms.

Fortunately, help not only can be on the way, it already is.  Possibly as early as his next start, Pineda should be back to full strength, and if he continues dominating the way he did in April and since his return, the Yankees will have traded for an ace from their own DL.  Same with Tanaka - although once he returns, he will be watched with extreme care, there is literally zero reason to doubt that his return would bolster the rotation, and quite possibly breathe new life into the team.

On the back end of things, it's actually a minor miracle for Rogers, Huff, and Hill that they're still around.  Although Huff has been pretty dominant, the Yankees have better options for all three in the minors - Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren leading the way - and David Phelps, once he returns, will return to provide relief to the bullpen.

With September 1 call-ups around the corner, expect the Yankees to bring up several fresh arms - and use them, too.  Although the lineup is the area of weakness, in order for the pitching staff to carry this team to the playoffs, the Yankees need all arms on deck throughout the month of September.

Yanks - Sacrifice Defense for Offense?

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports; pic from NY Daily News

At what point in the season do you seriously say, "Screw it, let's try the most outrageous things and pray they work?"

I feel like this blog, and every other Yankees-dedicated site on the Internet, has been highly repetitive - the Yankees cannot hit a lick.  After suffering terrible defense most of the year, the team has finally put together a serviceable infield with Chase Headley at 3B and Martin Prado/Stephen Drew at 2B.  But is it worth it?

Everyone who has seen Stephen Drew this season has said the same thing - the guy is less than worthless at the plate.  Since coming to the Bronx, he has generated all of his value from his glove, and has been a complete waste of a lineup spot, posting a .167/.224/.296 line.  In a lineup that has been the worst in baseball during the month of August and among the worst all season, that is simply unacceptable.

With the team utilizing a DH-by-committee to rest their older players while keeping their bats in the lineup, creating a generic platoon system for this team is rather difficult, but a few things can - and should - be noted:

1. Martin Prado posts a .367/.400/.633 line against LHP this season, compared to a .243/.289/.319 line against RHP.

2. Francisco Cervelli hits .303 against RHP with a .361 OBP and .461 SLG, plus 1 HR, 5 RBI, and 9 doubles; although his slugging percentage is relatively high against lefties, his AVG/OBP are nowhere near as well.

3. Ichiro has a .356/.412/.444 line against lefties, compared to .264/.306/.305 against righties.

4. Beltran has a .249/.317/.452 line against righties and a .212/.248/.356 line against lefties.

5. When Jeter sits, he needs to sit against lefties; it's not a big difference, but it helps.

In theory, the best combination would be to have Prado in right, Cervelli at 2B, and Beltran DH-ing against righties, and Beltran in right, Prado at 2B, and whomever DH-ing.  Now, that is certainly not going to happen, because Beltran cannot play the field at a semi-regular basis, and Cervelli is needed to back up McCann, as well as play behind the plate with Greene (and possibly McCarthy), and just flat-out not being an infielder. 

But that begs the question - when is it time to say "Forget logic" and ask the ridiculous questions.  Can Cervelli play a competent 2B?  Which is more valuable - offense or defense?  Is playing the hot bat with a bad glove worth it?  Or does it depend on whether the starter is a groundball- or flyball-pitcher?

Do I have the answers for sure?  No, of course not; if I did, the Yankees would be paying me to do Cashman's and Girardi's jobs.  But at this point of the season, is it worth a shot?

The answer, unfortunately, is clear - beggars can't be choosers, and this team needs to roll the dice if it wants even the 2nd wild card.