A New York Yankee fan’s look at Justin Verlander

Verlander’s career has been one long success story and if I had to bet, I’d bet that he comes back from the Tommy John surgery strong and solid.

I’m a transplant from the Midwest, Fort Wayne, Indiana, to be exact. It’s a great town if you love sports because within a 3-4 hour drive in any direction you can be in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Cincinnati. Most folks you meet are fans of one of these cities’ sports team(s).

It’s such an eclectic area of the country that I know people who are Cincinnati Reds, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Blackhawk fans all at once!

So it was somewhere around 2007-2008, that I had tickets to see Justin Verlander pitch at Comerica Park against the Chicago White Sox and I unfortunately missed the game for another commitment. Since that time, I have watched Verlander pitch with appreciation and deep respect for his accomplishments and success.

When Verlander went to the Houston Astros in 2017, my heart was broken – I’ve never been an Astros fan, obviously.

I had been a Verlander fan since he came up in 2005 and have watched as he turned a good career into a Hall of Fame career winning two Cy Young Awards along the way.

Presently, I live on the East Coast and am a Chicago Cub fan turned Yankee fan. I was converted by my husband during the 1998 season – what a year to become a Yankee fan!

When Verlander went to the Houston Astros, he seemed to snub his nose at the Bronx. Major League Baseball fans watched as he was a key to the Astros win in the 2017 World Series.

Fast-forward past a cheating scandal and Tommy John surgery and Verlander appears ready to leave Houston. According to Talkin’ Yanks on November 16th:

“ESPN’s Jeff Passan says Justin Verlander will sign this week, and he thinks the team he’ll sign with is the Yankees. Passan has no idea about Correa, but he does not think the Yankees are the right fit.”

With this news, Yankees Twitter was lit all day with rumors and speculation about what seemed an all but done deal.

Typical of the anti-Verlander comments: he’s 38 coming off Tommy John surgery and has only thrown 6 innings since 2019. Why would the Yankees want another reclamation project? Referring, of course, to last year’s signings of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, both of whom were coming off serious injuries.

There’s no real convincing response to this except to say that Verlander’s career has been one long success story and if I had to bet, I’d bet that he comes back from the Tommy John surgery strong and solid.

In 2019, Verlander led the league in innings pitched and won the second Cy Young Award of his career (his first with Detroit in 2011). That’s the upside – that’s what you potentially get when you sign Verlander, an elite bulldog who will grind out innings and always keep the team in the game.

No matter how you look at it, it is a crapshoot what Verlander will bring to the game after the surgery and Yankee fans are not patient. I have to believe that if Verlander comes to the Bronx it will be because he believes he can still perform at a very high level.

Kluber’s no hitter in May of ’21 was one of the highlights of a frustrating and inconsistent season for the Yankees. I’d still take it despite losing Kluber until August afterwards. For one outing, fans got vintage Kluber and no doubt he will continue his success with another team in ’22.

If the Yankees sign Verlander, it will be with the hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can reprise his power pitching performances of years past.

The Yankees front office hopes that bringing Verlander in would propel this team to a championship, otherwise there’s no reason to sign him.

As a Yankee fan and a baseball fan, I’m all in on bringing Verlander to the Bronx. To have Cole and Verlander sharing the workload at the top of the rotation guarantees excitement and high level performances.

Yankees 2022: Return to Hope and Glory

Ultimately, what fans want is World Series baseball in the Bronx in ’22.

Optimism dimmed and glory eluded the Yankees in ’21 as they were swiftly eliminated from the postseason with a loss in the Wild Card game to hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

An optimism based on the fact that most fans agree, the Yankees, with their current talent, are in a championship window and that they have a core of players who are at or near the peak of their careers — and I’m thinking of Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and Giancarlo Stanton, players with elite abilities who can change a game single-handedly.

The Yankees, however, struggled in spite of the personal accolades Judge received, and indeed, he won the Fielding Bible Award for his work in right field and a second Silver Slugger award. Both well deserved, but not enough to lift the team on his shoulders and carry them to a World Series.

After all, it’s winning that matters and the Yankees didn’t do enough of it in ’21. With a 92-70 record, landing 8 games back of the division winning Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees underperformed in spite of the wild card appearance.

As a fan watching the Yankees daily, it was no secret that the Yankees were underperforming. The inconsistency with which they played, the seemingly endless losing streaks balanced by bursts of winning that were dazzling, kept fans guessing what the identity of the 2021 Yankee team was.

Among the individual underperformers were Gleyber Torres, who struggled at the plate and in the field, eventually being moved to second base in the hopes that he would improve defensively.

DJ LeMahieu was likewise a disappointment in ’21, but with the bat, hitting .264, a daily grind (painful to watch at times) at the plate, not with the ease with which fans saw him hit .364 in 2020 and take home a Silver Slugger award. It was only after the season that fans learned he had been dealing with a hernia during the season that likely impacted his production.

Aroldis Chapman, Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez are other players who underperformed and who are now the target of fans’ offseason speculations that they may be traded.

Sure, injuries, such as Aaron Hicks’ season-ending wrist injury, Luke Voit’s oblique strain and knee injury, which left the Yankees vulnerable at first base, and Corey Kluber’s shoulder injury, which kept him out from June 5th-August 30th, negatively impacted the season.

It wasn’t until the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo at the trade deadline that there was some hope that the first base and outfield issues had been addressed.

However, even with the addition of Gallo and Rizzo, the Yankees were unable to mount a successful run at the postseason.

There were some sparks of optimism, however, as the season wound down. Luis Severino returned to pitch on September 20, 2021 and fans were once again cheering the 27 year old as glimpses of his once great talent were apparent. Nestor Cortes, Jr. emerged as a surprise success story in ’21.

I look forward to the 2021-2022 offseason as I have not looked forward to one since Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were available free agents.

The Yankees have identified their biggest areas of concern for 2022 as shortshop, first base, and starting pitching and the free agent class is teeming with elite talent, especially at shortstop, where Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Javier Baez lead the class.

The ’22 Yankee team has no identity at all as it will coalesce as the offseason acquisitions play out.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but look back to a time when the Yankees fans looked forward to Opening Day every year featuring two of the game’s greatest players, and also two stalwarts of the game, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Fans of the day were practically guaranteed that Ruth and Gehrig would bring a championship to the Yankees, and thus the expectation for generations of Yankees teams was born. Winning, as George Steinbrenner would famously say, after breathing, is the most important thing.

As fans look toward the 2022 season with hope, what they are hoping for is that the team will return to that glory represented by Ruth and Gehrig, that they will capture the elusive 28th title. Yankee fans expect titles and a .568 winning percentage is not acceptable.

Ultimately, what fans want is World Series baseball in the Bronx in ’22. It’s the same thing they wanted in ’21 and ’20 and, well, you get the idea.

So sit back Yankee fans and let the hot stove warm you while you dream of rings and championship things and let Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman work his magic.

How bad is DJ LeMahieu for the New York Yankees in 2021?

New York Yankees 2020’s silver slugger and utility man, DJ LeMahieu is having a year. After a career year in 2020 and subsequent six year $90M contract extension, DJ is struggling offensively in 2021 and fans are crying foul.

How bad is DJ at the plate through August 3, 2021? Let’s just say, too many at-bats end in a grimace for him and for fans! As far as the numbers go, there’s no comparison between last year and this year.

LeMahieu was an offensive juggernaut in ’20, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011. Yankees’ analytic guys were going nuts I’m sure, and he looked like the unstoppable machine he has been named for.

Fast-forward to 2021, and just a cursory look at his batting averages for the season: April .271, May .253, June .291, July .241 shows that he has not been able to put together a consistently solid season at the plate. Stat nerds can deep dive and probably find that all LeMahieu’s numbers this season are way below what Yankee fans expected.

Numbers aside, just watching him ground out at bat after at bat – or so it would seem – fans have become frustrated with him in the lead-off role. His on-base percentage in 2020 was .421 and is almost .100 points lower this year at .341. DJ’s lack of success getting on base has been disappointing for fans.

The only consolation, if it is any, is that the Yankee offense has been as inconsistent overall as DJ has been individually, with several players also having down years – Gleyber Torres, in particular.

He hasn’t hit a home run since June 26th, but then, no Yankee not named Anthony Rizzo has hit a home run since July 21st.

How bad is DJ? I’m one of the biggest fans of LeMachine, but that name seems much less apt in 2021. Fans have spent the season hoping with each game that LeMahieu would turn the corner and regain his form, but unless he’s planning a spectacular August and September, that scenario seems unlikely.

Expect more of the same, unfortunately, from LeMahieu.

Nasty Nestor on the base pads?

The 26 year old Nestor Cortes, Jr. is known for his wacky windups on the mound, but perhaps not so much for his base running moves.

He got a chance to show off these moves on Friday against the Marlins, when he pinch ran for Urshela. In true Cortes fashion, his style on the base pad was all his own, as he overran the base and just made it back before the tag.

So while Anthony Rizzo’s coming out party was a smashing success, and Joey Gallo’s was ok, it was Cortes who made me smile and reminded me that the game is supposed to be fun.

Even when he’s deceiving hitters with his unique windups, throwing them off their timing, they can’t help but laugh at the fun he’s having.

DJ LeMahieu: A Yankees fan’s reaction to his return

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem from his 6 year, $90M contract.

I was up early on January 15, 2021 and was among the first to see new that DJ LeMahieu was finalizing a deal with the New York Yankees. This news was soon confirmed and I smiled all day.

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem, from his 6 year, $90M contract. LeMahieu is the epitome of Yankee greatness, a player focused on performing at the top of his game every time out and focused on winning. His personal success, accolades, and awards only serve to solidify how important his contributions are to the winning culture of the Yankees.

The LeMahieu signing begins to clarify the Yankees infield for 2021. There was a time when impatient Yankee fans speculated that LeMahieu would not be returning and that Gleyber Torres would be moved back to second base where he had been more effective defensively than he was at short stop in his first full season. LeMahieu’s return makes that scenario unlikely, however the rumor mill continues to churn on speculations about what the Yankees might do with Gleyber Torres.

LeMahieu provides elite defense behind the American League’s best pitcher in Gerrit Cole, and profiles to improve on his 2020 defensive numbers, which were down from previous years.

I’ve wondered what effect, if any, Torres’ first year at shortstop might have had on LeMahieu at 2B, contributing, perhaps, to the slight downturn in Fielding Percentage (.971 in 2020 and .993 in 2019) and Defensive Runs Saved (0 in 2020 and 3 in 2019). It will be interesting to see how Torres and LeMahieu perform together in their second year together on the infield.

But it’s the offense of the player nicknamed “LeMachine” that excites Yankee fans. His stoic focus at the plate resulted in a Silver Slugger Award in 2020. He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting, but he has the potential not only to be a MVP candidate again in 2021, but to win it.

Yankee fans across Twitter and Facebook were united in their relief that LeMahieu had at last been signed, knowing that he is the fuse in an offense with explosive power. The 2021 Yankees roster is far from being carved in stone, but with LeMahieu anchoring it, at least Yankee fans know they’ll get a winning attitude, a championship attitude.

DJ LeMahieu: Yankee MVP, AL MVP

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the yankee lineup.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) announced their American League Most Valuable Player candidates on November 2, 2020. The finalists are Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees and Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians. Each player had elite numbers in a pandemic-shortened season.

A cursory view of the stats for Abreu, LeMahieu and Ramirez suggests that Abreu and LeMahieu outpaced Ramirez in most statistical categories, such as WAR, batting average, OPS and even DRS. This is really a two-man race.

Abreu and LeMahieu are each at 2.8 WAR for the ’20 season, but that’s where the comparison ends. Abreu had much more slugging power and his 60 RBIs in 60 games is a feat no one else came close to. LeMahieu, on the other hand, was an offensive juggernaut, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011.

Defensively, Abreu was above average with a DRS of 5, while LeMahieu, uncharacteristically, was at the league average of 0. Both Abreu and LeMahieu have been All-Stars and MVP candidates in past seasons and LeMahieu holds six Gold Glove awards.

But no player can rest on their past accolades. Abreu was certainly the MVP of the White Sox in ’20, leading them to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Of course, Rick Renteria, now a Manager of the Year candidate and, surprisingly, ex-manager of the White Sox, had a lot to do with their run into the postseason.

LeMahieu was the offensive catalyst for a powerful Yankee lineup, featuring the league’s home run king for ’20, Luke Voit. LeMahieu is aptly named “Le Machine” by Yankee fans because of his consistently solid at-bats and his high on base percentage. LeMahieu often was the Yankee offense as the team’s heavy hitters were sidelined or hampered by injury.

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the Yankee lineup. In 2019, he finished fourth in the MVP voting. It’s time for the BBWA to get it right and recognize the excellence of LeMahieu’s contribution to the Yankees and to the league.

DJ LeMahieu: Yankees must pay the man, The Machine

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DJ LeMahieu was once again Le Machine in the New York Yankees organization, putting up numbers offensively that outpaced even their highest expectations.

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says today:

LeMahieu distinguished himself with his offensive consistency, defensive versatility and low-key personality, and he put up the best two seasons of his 10-year career. Consequently, he put himself in line for a significant raise even though he’ll be entering his age-33 season in 2021.

I’m not here to speculate what kind of money it would take to keep LeMahieu, but to plead with ownership to pay the man, who is destined to make a significant impact for the team and to be a Hall of Famer.

According to Baseball Reference.com, Below are some of the highlights of LeMahieu’s offensive stats for 2020:

  • WAR – third overall, second in the American League with a 2.9;
  • Offensive WAR – fourth overall, first in the American League with 2.8;
  • BA – first overall with a .364;
  • On Base Percentage – fourth overall, first in the American League with .421;
  • On Base Plus Slugging – fourth overall, first in the American League with 1.011.

DJ had an all around great offensive campaign and with the batting title assured as he goes into his free agent season, he’ll no doubt command top money.

On the defensive side of the ball, DJ had a below average season – for him – he still probably falls in the top 10 among second basemen in the league.  Now I am not a statistics guru, but I did find that his fielding percentage was .971 in 2020, his lowest since 2011 when he was still a member of the Cubs.  He had 0 DRS this season, down from 3 in 2019 (he recorded as many as 14 in 2018 while with the Rockies).  Make of this what you will, even if it’s only proof that The Machine is human after all.

The Yankees have a golden opportunity to make the best hitter in baseball a legend among legends.  LeMahieu has the makings of a Yankee who could see himself immortalized out in Monument Park some day.  Pay the man, The Machine, and ensure his future accolades come in pinstripes.

 

New York Yankees Baseball: MLB July start would help fans heal

MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy

When I woke up on Tuesday, the news had hit that Jeff Passan reported:

Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

I was ecstatic that plans were being made to restart the cultural machine that is Major League Baseball – it was a sign of hope in a world where business and personal lives have been stalled by the coronavirus.

It was time to begin thinking of a way out of the bind and get not only baseball, but the entire country moving again in the wake of the crisis.

Unfortunately, by mid-day on Tuesday, Commissioner Rob Manfred countered the story with the following statement:

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”

I realized that no “plan” existed for Passan’s proposal, and as social media aptly pointed out the  stark realities which would render any plan at this time unfeasible – the biggest drawback being that players, coaches, accompanying media and employees, would have to be sequestered in Arizona away from their families – but other factors, such as the heat in Arizona and the lack of a minor league system to replenish teams in case of injury or illness also figured into the criticism.

Today is Wednesday, April 8th, when I awoke this morning there was no such news of hope that the MLB season could be started.  But that does not mean that I believe the season is a lost cause in 2020.  Quite the contrary, I believe there will be baseball.

I don’t have an elaborate plan to offer.  I don’t have solutions for the many headaches a shortened season will cause around the league, but I believe a July start makes the most sense.

By late May, if not before, the federal and state governments should have an understanding of where the population stands with regard to fighting and shutting down the spread of the coronavirus.

And since this is a New York Yankees baseball blog, I can’t help but mention that a July start would benefit the team as key players, such as Aaron Judge, James Paxton and Aaron Hicks will be healed from injuries and ready to return to the lineup.

Instead of an All-Star break, schedule Opening Day around the country to kick off the season.  By mid-July, it may even be possible to have fans in the stands.  MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy and a fulfillment of the hope that the virus can be beaten.