As the first half of the Yankees’ 2017 season draws to a close they currently sit in second place in the American League East, five games behind the first-place Red Sox. At the beginning of the season, most Yankee insiders I spoke with felt the Yanks would be an 85-90 win team which I felt was a bit optimistic. I figured 85 would be the high water mark. A second half similar to their first would put them squarely at 90 wins, so the consensus of the prognosticators appears to be accurate. However, if you believe in the sabermetric stat “Pythagorean Win Percentage,” which is a Bill James creation based off of run differential, the Yankees have lost seven games this season they should have won. Veteran team observers believe the primary (and in some cases, only) reason why sits in the manager’s office with his continued and blatant misuse of the pitching staff, but there are other factors which should be considered as well.
On June 12th, the Yanks posted a come from behind, 5-3 victory over the Angels in the first game of a west coast road trip. The win put them a season-best fifteen games over .500 and gave them a four-game lead in the East. Since then, they are ten games below .500 and have lost eight games in the standings. We can debate the pitching issue all we want and it’s certainly a legitimate argument, but injuries have played a role as well. Losing one regular for a couple of weeks wouldn’t make much difference; the Angels were one game under .500 when Mike Trout went on the disabled list, three weeks later they are still one game under .500.
When multiple injuries occur then you’re faced with using multiple reserves or minor leaguers to fill spots and that’s when you’ll start to see chinks occur in the armor. The Yankees have been without Greg Bird for most of the season. In mid-May, they lost centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and closer Aroldis Chapman to injury. On June 15th starter CC Sabathia went on the DL with a hamstring injury. They were without catcher Gary Sanchez for awhile as well as shortstop Didi Gregorius.
The guys who came up and filled in? Rob Refsnyder. Kyle Higashioka. Mason Williams. Tyler Austin. Ben Heller. Luis Cessa. Tyler Wade. There’s not a major leaguer in the bunch.
As the injuries continued to mount and the need to tap the farm system for help, the Twitter General Managers (as coined by our colleague Jed Weisberger) were all up in arms about recalling first Austin, then Chance Adams and Cito Culver, while at the same time pleading for the release of Chris Carter.
It doesn’t work that way.
Austin has been in the system since 2010 and has already once been removed from the 40 man roster. Outside of two brief stretches in 2012 and 2016 he has never shown the offensive consistency needed to play every day at the major league level. Rob Refsnyder falls into the same category and neither is considered average defensively. Higashioka and Williams are the reverse, both moved through the system based on defense but neither were thought of as having enough offense to equal the equation.
Chance Adams and others are a different story as they are not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees are not going to make two roster moves and potentially lose a player just so a Double-A guy can make one or two emergency starts. Granted, as we recently saw with Mason Williams, a player removed will likely go unclaimed on waivers and remain in the organization, but some circumstances, such as this one, are not worth the risk of losing someone you may need later.
Clint Frazier has shown in his brief trial that he can handle his own in the majors but unless the situation warrants a call-up there’s no reason. He’s better off playing every day in Triple-A then every other day in the majors. This is why teams carry players with major league experience on their AAA rosters; they can be depended on to perform in short stretches but they no longer are, or never were, major league caliber players.
We also have to be wary of trade rumors as well. I saw one on Twitter yesterday which indicates the Yankees are talking with the Marlins regarding Martin Prado and All-Star first baseman Justin Bour, with Frazier heading to Miami.
Why would the Yankees trade Frazier for anyone?
The Yankees have a historically abysmal record when it comes to the amateur draft and their prospects; they treat them like poker chips in a casino instead of investment options. Thankfully, there seems to be a change in that direction in the front office so flipping a chip for a band-aid isn’t good business. The Yankees seem committed to Greg Bird as their first baseman of the future despite his recent injury history. If they feel a band-aid is necessary there will be a number of players hitting the waiver wire as the trade deadline approaches where they can fill a temporary need without mortgaging part of their future.
There’s a saying in scouting, all minor league players are prospects, which on paper is true, otherwise, scouts wouldn’t be at Rookie League games. The truth is seventy-two percent of all first and second round draft picks never make it to Triple-A, much less the majors. The minor leagues are the ultimate filtering system, if a player reaches Triple-A he’s viewed as a prospect but the jump to the majors is arguably the largest they will make in their careers.
When this conversation comes up I always flashback to former Yankee Karim Garcia, a guy who over a twenty-five-year professional career which included stops in Korea, Japan and Mexico, won SEVEN batting titles. And yet he couldn’t consistently hit major league pitching, he played just 488 major league games over a ten-year career, with almost twenty-five percent coming in 1998 with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.
The lesson learned with this is minor league performance never guarantees major league success, believing what Tyler Austin does in Triple-A and Chance Adams does in Double-A will translate to New York is wishful thinking at best and foolhardy at worst.
Look at rosters, look at depth charts, look at what the team needs, those are more of a predictor than a guy’s batting average or ERA.