Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest

Yankees Move Out of Dark Ages With Shifting


This entry was posted on April 19th, 2014 @ 7:47 am by Jed Weisberger.
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Over the past few years, shifts for certain hitters have become the norm in baseball.

Both Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays and Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken shifts to a new level and guided their teams to the postseason utilizing shifts.

For decades, the strategy was to “hit it up the middle’’ and a base hit would likely be the result. That’s not the case anymore. The hole is still there, but not in the so-called middle.

“We all have data now, of hitters at all levels,’’ said Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “This year, starting in spring training, we took all this data and put it on the field. You will see our team, and every other team in the organization, shifting depending on who the hitter is.’’

The Yankees, who fell behind the curve in this type of defensive strategy, are now emerging from the dark ages with this, playing catch-up throughout their organization.

In  a game vs. the Portland Sea Dogs last week, the Thunder made six plays with the shift. The next night, things did not work so well.

In last Saturday’s 7-4 Yankees win over the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, the shifting hurt reliever Matt Thornton in the top of the seventh inning more than helped him.

One can say both situations occurred because both the Yankees infielders and their farm-system counterparts are just learning what this is all about.

“There is a time getting used to something like this,’ ’ said Franklin. “For instance, a second baseman is instructed to stand at a certain spot from Little League on. Now he is told to stand in another spot and why.

“It can be confusing to a player and uncomfortable to a degree when one is learning how to do this.’’

And not very effective, as when the Chicago Cubs botched a shift play against the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this week, resulting in an error and two runs scored.

“You are seeing this all over baseball,’’ said Franklin. “It puts more pressure in the hitter. The hole is still there for him to get a base hit, it’s just in a different place.’’

Those who enjoy mixing baseball with numbers can claim a victory here. The data on each hitter is loaded into a computer, with positioning determined by what information results.

Radio and TV announcers delight in mentioning the shifts, often showing, or telling, viewers and listeners how the second baseman is in the outfield, or there is only one fielder to the right of second base. The Pirates, for instance, shift according to the count on the hitter at times.

The Yankees are not to that level of expertise yet, but one can easily see that happening. Baseball is changing.

And those Bronx Bombers have finally jumped on that train.

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Tyler Austin Hoping For A Normal Season


This entry was posted on April 19th, 2014 @ 7:45 am by Jed Weisberger.
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TRENTON, NJ – Just a short year ago, Tyler Austin seemed ready to make his move.

Coming off a year in which he hit .322 (133-for-413) combined for Single-A Charleston and Tampa, along with a short stint at Double-A Trenton, he was rated the No. 3 Yankees prospect by Baseball America and the 68th-best overall.

Able to play the outfield, with a plus-arm in right, and third base, a 2014 arrival at Yankee Stadium was not out of the question.

Then came the 2013 season, cut short by a right wrist injury after the then-21-year-old admitted he had been having pain in that area for close to a month. He ended up hitting .257 (82-for-319) with six homers and 40 RBIs for Trenton.

“Not the season I wanted,’’ said the native of Conyers, Ga., who reported this season at a solid 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. “This year, I just want to settle in and have a normal season.’’

Normal to Austin is the .323 he recorded in 2012. He showed flashes in Trenton’s playoff drive to the Eastern League Championship last season, calling out Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard and getting to him for two extra base hits vs. Binghamton en route to a .304 (7-for-23) effort in the postseason.

After spending a short time in Extended Spring Training, Austin reported to the Thunder. He sees fellow outfielder Ramon Flores has already earned a Triple-A roster spot. So far he is hitting .211 with 3 RBI.

“I feel good, and I know it will all come together,’’ said Austin. “I know what I need to do,’’

The Yankees want Thunder manager Tony Franklin to play Austin at various positions this season.  He already started at third base once this season and, even with the return of Kyle Roller to Trenton Sunday, could see some time at first base.

One can tell Austin worked hard during the off-season. He appears as if he has put on more muscle weight, and is hoping his power numbers return.

“Tyler is a good player with a lot of potential,’’ said Franklin. “He’ll be in right field a lot, but he’ll also play a few other positions.

“The more versatile a player is, the more valuable he becomes and the better chance he has at getting to the big leagues.’’

Austin is making good contact, hitting the ball hard and knows the hits will come.

Wrist injuries can limit what how a player can perform – just ask Mark Teixiera – and regaining timing after such an injury is often a project.

Austin is looking to assume a leadership role in Trenton this season, just as he did in last season’s Eastern League playoffs. Calling out Syndergaard and backing up his comments were a key factor ionj Trenton’s post-season dominance.

So what is in the cards for Austin, whose prospect star has faded in some quarters? Will he have a normal season? Will a hot streak propel him to a promotion to Triple-A? Will he become a super-utility guy playing a few positions?

Those are the questions surrounding him.

 

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What Can Dillon Gee Be?


This entry was posted on April 1st, 2014 @ 7:00 am by Mike Silva.
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An overall awful ending to yesterday’s home opener. Every negative meme spoken about the Mets came to fruition: bad defense, bad bullpen and bad luck. Dillon Gee was the unlikely starter, and for six innings he made you wonder if he is emerging as the ace of this Harvey-less rotation. Then came the bullpen, led by journeymen like Carlos Torres and Scott Rice. If not for Jose Valverde, there wouldn’t have been extra innings. Terry Collins claimed in the postgame that Gee was “gassed” and he was “getting his pitches up.” I wonder if that perception comes from what the eyes saw or what the pitch count- Gee was at 100 pitches exactly upon his exit- on the scoreboard.

Rich Coutinho of SNY was bullish on Gee during my Saturday radio program, proclaiming the righty could be an All-Star this year. I have liked Gee since his call-up in 2010 when he took a blow from Ryan Howard on a Saturday night in Philly with a division-clinching celebration was on the line. That city was looking for blood, and Gee settled in to give a dead Mets team an opportunity to win a tough ballgame. Since his call-up he’s showed moxie, and improved every year, despite a huge setback due to a blood clot in 2012.

The Mets will probably baby Gee like all their starters, despite the fact he was treated the exact opposite upon being drafted in the 21st round in 2007. That summer he pitched for Brooklyn in the NY-Penn League. He started 11 games, won 3, and pitched to a 2.47 ERA in 62 innings. Why are those inning important? It’s because he threw additional 111 in college for Texas-Arlington. Imagine if a top pick threw 173 innings their rookie year in pro-ball? The pitch count police might charge the organization for abuse, and put them before a military tribunal.

Gee was not supposed to be a big leaguer. He wasn’t supposed to matter, as many saw him as, at best, inventory at Triple-A. Now that he’s shown promise it appears he will be treated like a glass vase just like Wheeler, Mejia and the other young arms that will be called upon this summer.

It’s possible that Dillon Gee is no more than a league-average starter that can give you innings at the back-end of a rotation. His career ERA+ of 95 indicates as much. But what if Gee can perform at a higher level? What if the second-half of 2013 (5-4, 2.74) is a harbinger of things to come? Maybe the Mets have a solid, homegrown, top-of-the-rotation veteran starter that can anchor what is an increasingly young rotation. That’s supposed to be Jon Niese, but Gee has looked more the part since the middle of last year.

What can Dillon Gee be? We may not know, but I do believe we won’t find out with 100 pitches and out every five days. I will take my chances with a “gassed” Gee over a journeyman righty and a former member of the Long Island Ducks, any day of the week.

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Listen: WFAN’s Sweeny Murti on 2014 Yankees


This entry was posted on March 31st, 2014 @ 7:41 am by Mike Silva.
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On Saturday’s Weekend Watchdogs radio program, Sweeny Murti of WFAN previewed the 2014 Yankees.

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SNY’s Rich Coutinho Previews 2014 Mets


This entry was posted on March 31st, 2014 @ 6:56 am by Mike Silva.
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On Saturday’s Weekend Watchdogs radio program, Rich Coutinho of SNY and Metsblog previewed the 2014 Mets.

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Yanks Spending Spree Gets Them “In the Mix”


This entry was posted on March 30th, 2014 @ 11:35 am by Mike Silva.
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Normally the Yankees spending $400 plus million in an offseason would lead to assurances of an AL East title and October baseball. This time, all Brian Cashman did by acquiring Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann is get the Yanks back into the same Wild Card mix they were in last year. The difference is they’re actually an 85 to 87 win team versus the over performance of what was really a 79-win team in 2013.

Lets start with the positives.  The Yankees may have the best fifth starter in baseball in Michael Pineda. Their bullpen has interesting arms such as Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Adam Warren that provide some upside. Any of those individuals could step-in to the rotation, and give Joe Girardi quality innings. Gone are the days where injuries lead Cashman and company to turn to the trash heap for the Sidney Ponson’s of the league. In the bullpen,  Dellin Betances and Shawn Kelley will potentially miss a lot of bats.  David Robertson is replacing the “Babe Ruth of closers,” but his process- high strikeout rate and a decreasing walk rate – makes him a good bet to be among the elite closers in baseball. Not Mariano Rivera, but you can’t ask for anything better. The free agent acquisitions should all perform to historical levels, a tremendous upgrade from last season, with Tanaka possibly becoming the ace that CC Sabathia once was.

So why the pessimism? There still are too many question marks on this roster. Any sane baseball analyst that doesn’t wear pinstriped-colored glasses knows that, in best case, question marks falls somewhere down-the-middle of the outcome scale.

So what’s different than prior spending sprees? Cashman knew the “magic beans and pixie dust” patchwork that led to an 85-77 finish last year would not be sustainable in 2014. The problem is $400-million isn’t enough as he needed a bit more to fill his holes at second, third and bring in veteran bench insurance for the aging Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. I believe the infield will ultimately be one of their glaring weaknesses.

I expect a post-wrist surgery Mark Teixeira to lack the power of prior years, and be more of a defensive-minded first baseman. Derek Jeter, despite staying healthy this spring, will be asked to become the first 40-year old shortstop to perform at an elite level since Honus Wagner.  In other words, not since Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States have we seen that kind of combination of age and performance at the position.

What about the top-of-the-rotation? Tanaka better be good as advertised since both Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are no sure bets to repeat their prior performances. Hearing Sabathia talk about “re-inventing” himself should be a clue as to what we should expect from him going forward. There are far more examples of aces struggling with a compromised repertoire later in their career (see Randy Johnson), then those that returned to their prior All-Star level (Tom Glavine).

What should be even more concerning for this Yankees team their Plan B for Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson. Roberts would be a great option at second, and probably the leader to become a fan favorite, if this were 2005. It’s been four years since Roberts stayed on the field and performed acceptably to be considered an everyday player at the position. Johnson has some interesting left-handed pop for Yankee Stadium, but profiles better as an “around-the-world” bench player than alternative to Alex Rodriguez at third. If they fail, then what? Dean Anna? Yangervis Solarte? Eduardo Nunez? Those are the kind of alternatives that got the Yanks in trouble last season.

I believe this Yankees team has too much age, too top heavy in talent and lacks appropriate depth. We all praised Hal Steinbrenner for ignoring the luxury tax threshold and bringing on Tanaka, but he still pinched pennies when it came to critical parts of the roster. If you were going to splurge, go all the way and step up for Cano at second. That would have made the offseason that much different.

Vegas has the Yankees over/under around 86-87 wins, and I believe that is exactly where this team will end up.  Is that enough for a one-game playoff? Maybe, and once you get in the tournament that is the modern MLB playoffs anything can happen. On the flip side, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees finished in the low eighties and towards the bottom of the AL East. Not a bad “worst-case” scenario, but not what this organization and fan base has experienced the last two decades.

***

Listen to Sweeny Murti of WFAN preview the 2014 season on the Weekend Watchdogs.

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Mets Have Hope in ’14, But Still in Baseball Purgatory


This entry was posted on March 29th, 2014 @ 1:48 pm by Mike Silva.
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There isn’t a realistic scenario where anyone could rationalize Sandy Alderson’s 90-win prediction this coming season. For three years, all the coverage surrounding the Mets has been on the finances – or lack thereof- of the ownership group. That won’t go away anytime soon as long as ownership continues to display financial restraint in the mold of Tampa Bay and Oakland. The lack of financial resources, as Rich Sandomir of the NY Times pointed out earlier this week, means that attendance at Citi Field becomes essential to the Wilpons investing in the roster going forward. Can 2014 yield the type of performance that will finally bring the fans to Citi Field the way we saw those final seasons at Shea? No, but there may be some hope for the first time during this five-year streak of losing.

The Mets win total won’t change the perception of where they are as an organization. Any team that is in the 75-81 win range- which is where I expect this team to end up- is considered to be in baseball purgatory: not among the dregs of the league, but not serious contenders for even a second Wild Card spot. Expect more of the same from this group as they will tease you with good play for some stretches, awful play during others, and probably leave you wanting on most nights.

With four of the eight starting position players coming out of the spring as huge question marks, a shaky bullpen and a manager that seems to be overmatched in the dugout, this Mets team lacks impact talent up and down the roster to be taken seriously. It’s really no different than 2011-2013, just new names on the back of the uniform. The difference this year, however, is the young pitchers may finally be on the verge of contributing; with the possibility of an all-homegrown staff as early as the second half of this season.

Rafael MonteroJacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard could be candidates for the rotation later this season. That trio, along with Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler, make for the real story of the 2014 Mets. These young arms will not only give the Mets the kind of arms to make for a potent rotation, but they all fall under the young and controllable pre-arbitration umbrella that will allow this cash-strapped ownership group to potentially invest in the rest of the ball club; something they haven’t done in half a decade. They also provide depth that Sandy Alderson can use to acquire an in-prime star in the mold of Mike Piazza, which helped turn around the franchise in the late nineties.

The problem is that pitching prospects never are a sure bet. Matt Harvey was pitching at the level of a Seaver and Gooden last year, but now is a huge question mark due to his injured elbow. Even the most bullish prognosticators have to think that one or two arms, at best, will emerge as consistent contributors out of that group. Notice I said contributors, not stars. Anything worse won’t be a surprise, but it will certainly put this franchise in a position where they can’t fill the roster appropriately for years to come. That means more lean summer nights at Citi Field where the big news is the band that plays postgame, or watching the kids run the bases on a Sunday afternoon.

You can enjoy the Bartolo Colon starts, David Wright 2-homer games and the theatrics of Jose Valverde as a way to fill your 2014 spring and summer sports fix until the NFL returns. None of it will matter, as this Mets team will join other teams in franchise history that fell into the bland mid-seventy win territory. What happens in Vegas, and hopefully on the Citi Field mound later this summer, will ultimately determine the success of this franchise in 2015 and beyond.

If the results are positive, then perhaps next year we can seriously talk about meaningful September games, and perhaps a playoff spot.

***

Listen to Rich Coutinho of SNY preview the upcoming Mets season on the Weekend Watchdogs with my co-host, Joe Buono, and me.

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Mejia Should Take the 5th


This entry was posted on March 23rd, 2014 @ 4:08 pm by Mike Silva.
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Jenrry Mejia tossed a solid 5 innings of 1-run ball this afternoon against the Washington Nationals. Going into the ballgame, Mejia was reported to still be “in the mix” for the fifth spot in the rotation. There shouldn’t be any more discussion as Mejia should be given the spot over Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This season will not be about a contention for the Mets. There still are too many holes in the lineup, bench and bullpen to compete in a division that features Washington and Atlanta. The Mets need to use 2014 to see who are the “keepers” from their highly publicized stable of young pitchers. Mejia – who came before Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Montero and Syndergaard – needs to show that he can physically handle the rigors of the starting rotation. This won’t be accomplished in Las Vegas or the bullpen. At 24-years old the time is now.

What about the alternative? There is no upside to Matsuzaka getting the fifth spot. Even in his best season (2008), Dice-K allowed too many base runners to employ any level of sustained success. All you could hope for is a league average season from the veteran righty, with plenty of TV-turning off performances. Last September showed you the best and worst of Matsuzaka, and the in-between (ERA+ of 81) is probably easily achieved by Mejia.

Worried about rotation depth? You should be as Jonathon Niese is a sure bet to miss time to the disabled list. No worries, as Dice-K has a May 30th opt-out in his contract. Let him start the season in Las Vegas, and I suspect you will have a clear idea of whether you will need him by that date. The need for a veteran diminishes as you get into the summer months since deGrom, Syndergaard and Montero will be available.

There is no reason to plead the fifth when it comes to Jenrry Mejia in the rotation; the spot should belong to him.

***

Think back to the offseason of 2006 when the Mets were coming off a division title, but needed a top-of-the-rotation starter due to the injuries to Pedro Martinez. The Red Sox, Yankees and Mets were all rumored to be the favorites for Dice-K’s services. The media was talking about his unhittable “gyroball.” The Sox’s blew away the competition with a $51-million dollar bid, but the Mets- not the Yankees- were second at $39-million.

Theo Epstein would sign Matsuzaka to a 6-year/$52-million dollar deal. With all the bad Omar Minaya contracts this would have been right up there.

Sometimes you win even when you lose, which has been a rarity for the Mets the last decade.

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NYBD Is Back!


This entry was posted on March 7th, 2014 @ 6:07 pm by Mike Silva.
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After a two year hiatus I would like to announce the return of NYBD.

First, before I get into details, let me be clear about the purpose and intention of this site.

MIKE SILVA’S NEW YORK BASEBALL DIGEST IS INDEPENDENT AND UNAFFILIATED WITH ANY ELECTRONIC OR PRINT MEDIA OUTLET 

Now that we have that on the table, let me explain my return.

Over the last two years I left writing/blogging to focus more on radio ventures and some personal matters. I believed it was time to expand outside of just talking baseball, and add other sports, as well as media, to my repertoire. I felt I could no longer give to the site what was necessary to move it forward. I was fortunate enough to land a weekend job hosting on Champions Radio, the ESPN affiliate on Long Island. Unfortunately, Champions Radio has switched formats and its future with sports talk is uncertain. This led to my return to new media and freelance work. Why not bring back a site that had a great niche, and provided many fans with a place to debate, vent and discuss the latest New York baseball topics.

Additionally, there was some confusion about whether I was affiliated with a publication. Let me be clear: I use this site for non-profit purposes. It’s an outlet to promote my radio work and interact with my New York baseball-loving listeners. I don’t make a dime off it, nor have any intention of putting out any traditional magazine or publication. This is my own personal digest on New York baseball; nothing more, nothing less.

The new NYBD will be focused on opinion pieces. I hope to have some of my old contributors check in here once in a while, as well.

We will have fun here, but quality over quantity is the focus of this site.

I will continue to write about all sports and media at my sister site: Sports Media Watchdog. I also co-host a weekly show on Blog Talk Radio called The Weekend Watchdogs. Additionally, I am working on traditional media projects that I hope to be able to announce in the near future.

Lets talk some baseball and have fun. I believe the New York media landscape has missed the passion this site brought on a daily basis from 2008 to 2012.

I am looking forward to interacting with all of you!

Mike Silva

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Lennon on Hall-of-Fame Voting


This entry was posted on January 5th, 2014 @ 11:00 am by Mike Silva.
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Dave Lennon., baseball writer for Newsday, joined Mike Silva and Joe Buono on the Weekend Watchdog (ESPN Champions Radio 107.1/96.9 FM) to discuss the Hall-of-Fame voting process.

Lennon discussed his ballotas well as how the BBWAA is contemplating some changes to the process.

“The Baseball Writers Association does have meetings at the All Star Game, the World Series, the Winter Meetings to go over a lot of this stuff. There was a lot of discussion about maybe changing some of the thinking that does go into the Hall-of-Fame. Whether it’s the amount of candidates that you can vote for, I think that is going to be reviewed ,and also some of the standards about minimal votes that will keep people on the ballot past that. The systems been the same for quite a long time, and I don’t think it’s changed really at all since we  (BBWAA) started voting for the Hall-of-Fame. So, ya know, there is something to that. You don’t want to change the system too much because in past years it’s kept people off, and if you change it now does that become unfair? Does it change the playing field on how these players compete to get in?  So I think it’s a tricky one.”

To listen to the entire interview click here and go to the 25:30 mark.

To read what my ballot would be, if I had one, you can click here

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