Week 4: Are the Yankees really this bad?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” and while he was talking about politics, he could have meant baseball and newspapers.

The New York Post knows what Emanuel meant, because it never lets a slow Yankees start go to waste.

The Yankees are 8-15 after Sunday’s loss at Boston, six games behind the first-place Red Sox, with the fourth-worst record  in baseball. Anyone who’s watched them, though, knows their record is misleading. It could be worse.

The Post went into crisis coverage after a Sunday that was more mayday than May Day, proposing a plan to revive the Yankees and another to rebuild them if the former didn’t work.

Baseball seasons are six months and 162 games, and the Yankees have finished less than 15% of theirs. This is a franchise that once made up 14 games on the Red Sox in two-and-a-half months; 38 years later six games with five months to go looks as daunting as climbing the steps to the top of the Empire State Building.

Just a year ago the Yankees had a seven-game lead with two months and three days to play, and we remember how that ended. (Since the Yankees were 60-45 and led the AL East by five-and-a-half games last Aug. 4, they’re 30-45, 30-46 if you include their extended postseason stay against the Astros in the wild-card game. And in those 76 games, they’ve scored five runs or more just 20 times. There’s a pizza company that offers its product for half price when the Yankees score six runs or more. Sunday was the second time the Yankees had done that since April 9. Passover isn’t the only reason Yankees fans have been abstaining from pizza. But I digress.)

Why panic tomorrow when you can panic today? Patience is for hitters like Joey Votto (and wouldn’t he look good in Yankees pinstripes?).

If you’re prone to panic, you lowered the lifeboats as the Titanic left Southampton. It may have made you paranoid, but it didn’t make you wrong.

The Post’s implications are right in one relevant regard: the Yankees are bad. Their -31 run differential is a run away from being the worst in the American League, and the Astros, who are -32, have the advantage of being outscored in two more games. Entering play Monday, the Yankees were 13th in the AL in runs scored and 14th in team ERA, just one-hundredth of an earned run from being 15th.

Yankees starting pitchers are last in the AL in ERA (5.16) and they’ve completed seven innings three times in 23 games, twice by Masahiro Tanaka. We saw what happened Friday night when he tried to do it again.

(Tanaka has been pitching for almost two years with a partially torn ligament in his elbow. He had a 2.10 ERA in 2014 after losing to the Red Sox, 2-1, on a Mike Napoli ninth-inning homer, made two more troubled starts, then sat out two-and-a half months. From that loss to the Red Sox to this one, his ERA has been 3.71. Is 75% of Tanaka better than having the surgery, being without for a year and hoping for 100% of the pitcher he used to be? But I digress again).

It’s harder to remember the fluctuations of the long season when you start on the bottom. Even Bryce Harper (and wouldn’t he look good someday in Yankees pinstripes?) is 2-for-his-last-21 and has lost 57 points off his average after starting the season hitting .328.

Part I of the Post’s plan to fix the Yankees is to bench Chase Headley and insert Ronald Torryes, who has nine hits in 24 at-bats as a twice-a-week-infielder. You can understand the impulse — Headley is without an extra-base hit in 64 at-bats and doesn’t have many singles, either. Torryes is competent, in a utility infielder kind of way, but he’s hit 22 career minor-league homers in 2,578 at-bats. He’s not putting the bombers back in the Bronx.

Headley has a lifetime .742 OPS  and is 319 points below that, but he’s not alone. Jacoby Ellsbury, a lifetime .288 hitter, is 41 points below that; Mark Teixeira, a lifetime .516 slugger, is 166 points below that.

The Yankees can play Torryes but they’re still going to have to pay Headley — $13 million for this year and $26 million more for 2017-18. If he doesn’t produce any more, Pablo Sandoval will seem like a bargain.

It’s curious that Red Sox fans persist in booing Ellsbury, who helped the team win two World Series and then helped it secure its future by taking a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees. Red Sox fans should applaud him for the latter, because it opened spots in the outfield for Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts (and wouldn’t Betts look good in Yankees pinstripes)?

Part IV of the Post’s plan is to figure out the Ellsbury riddle, and the Red Sox should be glad it’s not theirs. The Yankees panicked after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, signing Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran for $283 million.

Ellsbury has gone from a base stealer who led the AL with 52 in 56 attempts in 2013 to one who was caught nine times in 30 attempts last year and is 5-for-8 this; McCann has hit .232 and 49 homers the last two years and been worth 5.0 of WAR (former Yankee Francisco Cervelli has been worth 4.6 for $5.1 million over the last three seasons, or what the Yankees paid McCann for the first two months of 2014); Beltran has a -4.0 defensive WAR in his two years plus one month as a Yankee, and he’s on a pace this year to be -3.0. Compared to Beltran in 2016, Hanley Ramirez was a Gold Glover in left field. The quickest, simplest way to improve the Yankee’s pitching staff is to get Beltran out of right field, where he wanders with all the urgency of a New York cabbie going out out of his way to pad the fare. Unfortunately, that would hurt a Yankees’ offense which is already hurting.

The Yankees are old and brittle with a dysfunctional roster and mostly — apart from outfielder Aaron Judge — barren farm system.

Their current predicament was borne by impetuous moves. A few more couldn’t help but hurt.



Other points of interest (stats through Monday’s games):

  • The Astros acquired Ken Giles to bolster their bullpen, and in 10 innings he’s allowed 16 hits, four homers and four walks. He was supposed to pitch the ninth inning but he’s blown two saves; he was moved to the eighth inning, but in 11 appearances he’s given up runs six times. Now manager A.J. Hinch says he’ll ease him out of that role. Unfortunately, the Astros are running out of innings in which to pitch Giles.
  • Speaking of struggling relievers, the Blue Jays might want to stop bringing Brett Cecil into tie games. Cecil is 0-5, and deservedly so. He has a 5.79 ERA, .848 OPS against and has given up 14 hits in 9.1 innings. The Blue Jays are familiar with Cecil’s slow starts. Last year his ERA was 5.14 at the end of April and 5.96 on June 21, after he which he pitched 31.2 innings and didn’t allow another earned run. Let’s see him match that.
  • The Yankees hit into four double plays Friday at Boston in diversified fashion. They hit two on the ground — third-to-second-first and shortstop unassisted to first — and ran into two when Starlin Castro failed to score on a fly to left and Jacoby Ellsbury was thrown out trying to steal on a third strike. The Yankees have only hit into 15 double plays, below the league average of 16, in part because their .309 on-base percentage is also below league average.
  • The Orioles wanted to farm Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, but his contract gave him right of refusal, which he exercised. Who could blame him when that meant a trip to Norfolk. Kim is batting .600 for the season after going 3-for-4 Saturday. Maybe the Orioles should run more roster moves by him.
  • A year ago the Phillies led MLB in losses with 99. This year their pitchers lead MLB in strikeouts, with 254 through Sunday, including Vincent Velasquez’s 16 against the Padres and four pitchers combining to fan 18 Indians over 11 innings Friday. A year ago they were 23rd in strikeouts. This is what happens when Jerome Williams, Severino Gonzalez and David Buchanan don’t make a quarter of your starts.
  • It has not been a good year for pitchers with the surname Anderson. The Dodgers’ Brett had back surgery and will miss half the season; the Indians’ Cody gave up 34 hits and six homers in his first 20 innings and was sent to the minors with a 7.65 ERA; the Brewers’ Chase hasn’t been much better, giving up 34 hits and six homers in his first 24.1 innings and will take a 5.55 ERA into his next start. Fortunately for Chase, next to Wily Peralta’s 7.50 ERA, Zach Davies’ 8.78 and Taylor Jungman’s 9.15, his numbers look pretty good.
  • Peralta was perhaps the most unimpressive winner of the season Sunday. He allowed 13 hits and fanned none in 5.2 innings, but beat the Marlins 14-5. An 11-1 lead after four innings helped.
  • Left-handed reliever Sean Burnett, pitching in AAA for the Dodgers, opted out of his contract to sign with the Braves. Even if promoted, isn’t this leaving one minor-league team to play for another?
  • Someone wrote in this space last week about it being hard for David Ortiz to maintain his start of 9-for-26 with seven extra-base hits since he was homerless in the next two weeks. Naturally Ortiz homered twice this weekend. After two days mostly off thanks to interleague play, Ortiz went 8-for-20 with five extra-base hits; he’s batting .317 with a 1.051 OPS and AL-best 11 doubles. Maybe he can maintain that pace.
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